By JUDY GAMAN

Of those on the ground, it has been called the Covid Tour of Duty. Doctors, nurses and support staff working around the clock on high alert, in many cases seeing the worst effects of our global battle against the pandemic. Even these non-hospital workers, especially those in primary care, are being pushed to their limits with no final end in sight.

Long before the pandemic, the alarm bells have sounded due to the aging of the population, which by its nature requires more health care. This population faced a shortage of doctors and nurses. Add to that the pandemic – which has claimed the lives of many healthcare workers and exhausted those who remain – and the shortage becomes the industry’s next crisis.

Patients with post-Covid sequelae will need continued care and may require more visits to their primary care facility in the years to come. Without adequate pressure to educate more doctors and nurses, the American population will face a continuing shortage, now by massive proportions. Opening borders during a pandemic is like pouring gasoline on the fire, as the country is currently in a hurry to take care of theirs.

A survey by Mental Health America (https://mhanational.org/) that surveyed healthcare workers from June to September 2020 showed that more than 75% were frustrated, exhausted or overwhelmed. In addition, 93% had symptoms related to stress. These same workers are still going full speed five months later.

American medical colleges published data showing that of the 900,000 medical school applications of 53,000 applicants in 2019-2020, only 22,000 were accepted. The 2020 pandemic did not encourage the candidates to shirk, on the contrary. The Association of American Medical Colleges shows that applications are actually up 25% in more than twenty-four medical schools. The stake therefore does not seem to lie in the desire of the population, but rather in the disrupted supply and demand within American medical schools. Even if some students who apply are not suitable for medical school, they could be redirected to nursing and other medical professions. It is a task that should be at the center of our policy making.

With all the political talk and policy making revolving around access to health care, perhaps the goal is misdirected. If America could campaign for more medical and healthcare education, bringing supply to meet demand, the country would be better equipped to meet the already strained demands of industry. At the end of this Tour of Duty, those who carried the country through battle will be ready to pass the torch. It is our job to make sure someone else is there to receive it.

Judy Gaman is the CEO of Executive Medicine of Texas (www.emtexas.com), speaker and award-winning author.

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