© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How primary care physician shortages are impacting the U.S. and Milwaukee

Illustration by Hao Hao for Milwaukee Magazine
"There are definitely high level effects in terms of how this affects public health. But also on the other level, people leave appointments feeling anxious and upset, and doctors might feel less satisfied with their jobs because they have less time to be the great doctor that they want to be."
Ashley Abramson

When was the last time you visited your primary care provider? Think about how long it takes to schedule an appointment, and once you were there did you feel rushed during the visit? Have these factors led you to hesitate to return or even want to find a new provider?

These experiences with healthcare access and doctors are common and an unfortunate side effect of a shortage of primary care physicians. With primary care providers leaving the medical field, it forces clinicians to treat more patients in less time, leading to less than ideal or unreliable care.

This problem is prevalent not only in the Milwaukee-area but nationwide. Freelance reporter Ashley Abramson wrote about this issue in this month’s Milwaukee Magazine.

Abramson explains that the lack of a primary care physician can negatively impact both patients and providers in a community. Whether a patient has recently moved into the area, is unhappy with their current care, or needs to find a new physician after the previous one moves or retires, a lack of available doctors often leads to longer wait times.

"Some people might not feel like they can wait that long to find a doctor or see a doctor. I think appointments can be rushed when there's fewer providers available. There's less time slotted for each patient, which means the patients might feel like they can't ask all the questions they have for their physicians," says Abramson. The combination of factors can also have a negative impact on the overall public health of a community.

Primary care physicians also commonly serve as a main point of education for their patients for their general health. They'll commonly teach things like mental health, nutrition and sleep habits. Abramson says, "So if we don't have a [primary care physician], we're going to miss out on some of those things. And I could see that really affecting people's health negatively."

Abramson says the shortage can be traced to burnout within the medical field combined with potential medical students avoiding primary care in favor of specialty fields that typically offer better compensation and hours. In light of that, national and local efforts to advocate for more affordable medical schools have begun. In Milwaukee, Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin are partnering with other local clinics to train more doctors in the primary care field.

In the meantime, Abramson advises patients lacking primary care to know their options. "If you don't have a reliable primary care doctor, things like urgent care and the emergency department can be appropriate for certain concerns. But establishing a relationship ultimately with a provider that can see you long term and know your health history, someone that you trust and actually like is super important."


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
Related Content