Why Infectious Disease Medicine May Soon See A Shortage Of Specialists In The US

Infectious disease experts bear a number of different responsibilities. From ensuring proper physician antibiotic usage to protecting against wide-spread disease outbreaks, infectious disease specialists are crucial to both the scientific community, as well as our healthcare system (via STAT News). However, recent data from the National Resident Matching Program shows that interest in pursuing the specialty is dropping, a trend that experts at HealthDay state will likely affect the public significantly in the years to come.

According to resident matching data for the upcoming 2023 year, 44% of certified infectious disease programs reported unfilled slots. "It's quite concerning for many of us, because obviously it's suggesting that for many years we will not have the number of people necessary to manage infectious disease," Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) President Dr. Carlos del Rio told HealthDay. With 80% of U.S. counties currently reported to be lacking in infectious disease doctors, experts anticipate a substantial shortage to endure over the next 10 years.

Why we're seeing lower infectious disease recruitment numbers

When analyzing potential reasons behind this drop in numbers, some experts cite income as one such cause, reports STAT News. They explain that infectious disease is one of the lesser-paid specialties, compared to other areas such as cardiology or oncology. The COVID-19 pandemic is another factor experts believe may be at play. The divisiveness across the country experienced throughout the outbreak — coupled with pandemic fatigue amongst the public — may be a deterrent for some residents. "People see the polarization of infectious disease, the attacks, and I think that makes people say, 'Well, why do I want to do this?'" Dr. del Rio told HealthDay.

In an effort to boost numbers, some programs are taking alternative approaches to fill unoccupied slots. Such efforts include enrolling residents who did not match with other fellowships, those who are newly interested in an infectious disease fellowship but who had not participated in the match, and doctors who are now interested in pursuing a specialty (per STAT News). However, experts point out the need for healthcare leaders to take a more multi-faceted approach to infectious disease recruitment. This includes initiatives such as reaching out to medical students earlier on, increasing financial support, and offering loan repayment programs for those in the field.