August 1st, 2013

Poll: Will There Be A Shortage of HIV Providers?

shuffleboardOver on NEJM Journal Watch — love that new name — I reviewed a paper on the demographics of people living with AIDS in San Francisco.

Bottom line — more than half are now older than 50.

Implication — that’s so old!

First, it really isn’t, unless you compare it to the dismal era 20+ years ago, when so many of the sick and dying with AIDS were young men and women. Let’s face it, that was one of the true horrors — maybe the horror — of this new disease.

Second, this aging of the HIV population is of course really a good thing, since it means fewer people are dying of AIDS.

Third, what does it say about us, the HIV providers?  The doctors, nurses, PAs, PharmDs, social workers, case managers, etc. who have been at this for quite some time now.

Obvious answer: We’re getting older too. Even older than 50.

(Yes, for the record, you could say that I’m speaking from personal experience here.)

In fact, this paper prompted one of my colleagues to ask me about our successors. What happens when we oldsters decide to do something else? Who’s going to take our place?

I’ve heard anecdotally that in some parts of the country it’s been difficult to attract young clinicians to HIV/ID, with multiple reasons cited — not enough revenue, HIV/AIDS lacks the drama it used to have, the patient population has changed, all the young people are now interested in only international work, there are no good jobs available.

Let’s take these one at a time:

  • Not enough revenue: I guess there is some truth to this, especially in a health care system that values volume and procedures over complexity. But this has hardly changed, so it’s not as if anyone went into HIV/ID primarily for cash to begin with. Hey, this is not orthodonture, folks!
  • HIV/AIDS lacks the drama it used to have:  Certainly fewer premature deaths means less drama — but is this is the kind of drama anyone really wants? I wouldn’t trade the current HIV treatment era for the early 1990s in a million years.
  • The patient population has changed: In fact, it really hasn’t — HIV/AIDS has disproportionately struck gay men (all races/ethnic groups) and heterosexual racial/ethnic minorities for decades now. There are fewer new infections from injection drug use and hemophilia, but that’s about it.
  • All young people are now interested in only international work: Yes, some of the trainees are truly committed to establishing a research and/or clinical base in regions that have a far worse HIV/AIDS problem than we do. But for many this initial enthusiasm fades once they realize how difficult it is to do this successfully — especially while simultaneously trying to start a family. Which means they also want to work here, or even predominantly want to work here.
  • There are no jobs. Well, there will be when we retire — that’s the point of this discussion!

So is it true that we won’t be able to find new HIV/ID providers to care for HIV patients when we stop doing it?

True or false -- we will soon be facing a shortage of HIV providers.

View Results

5 Responses to “Poll: Will There Be A Shortage of HIV Providers?”

  1. Brandon Auerbach says:

    Hi Paul, where do you think the jobs are going to be for newly minted primary care providers with HIV expertise in the next few years? There’s plenty of us in the Boston IM programs who would love to take over someone’s primary care panel who’s ready to retire and has a significant percentage of patients living with HIV. Great post. Very true about young MDs starting with an international focus but deciding working domestically makes more sense.

  2. Juan Galvis says:

    I’m on my first year of residency and all my piers are applying to GI and Cards ,I will go for ID/HIV I would love to be a healthcare provider for HIV patients

  3. M says:

    For many, many years I really worried about this. From an international perspective, very few KOL emerged after the first wave, and all are past 50 (most past 60). I am glad you brought it up. HIV/AIDS will be here for many years and we do need a younger generation to step in. I don’t know what the answer is, but we do need to do something about it.

  4. Chiaying Liu, MD says:

    I am an ID physician from Taiwan. In my home country, HIV patients were followed at our ID clinics instead of their family physicians, and their drug fee were paid by our CDC totally. The total HIV-infected population remained in growth in our country, and I have observed more and more young physicians elected to be an ID physician and care those patients — though CV specialists or GI specialists remained the mainstream for young physicians. I have asked my colleagues why they elected to be a HIV care physician. They just said ” It just gave us a greater sense of accomplishment.” So, I don’t think there would be a shortage of HIV-providers. There are always some fools like us.

HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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