MD and DO schools increased enrollment to meet a projected doctor shortage head-on — when and what will chiropractic do?
There are a lot of people thinking about what the future looks like as we hope vaccines will curb the pandemic. Health professionals across the world have been called to serve and respond, and they have. They have served the public and answered the call to provide needed care under extraordinary circumstances. There has been a lot of talk about resilience this year. There has been a lot of talk about retirements and a forecasted doctor shortage.
Like others of a certain age they have been considering what the future is going to bring.
Is chiropractic prepared for retired baby boomers?
Baby boomers are reaching retirement age and they are redefining the demographics of the country.
A larger part of the U.S. population will be considered “seniors” than ever before. Roughly 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day. By 2035 it is said that there will be more baby boomers (over 65) than people under 18 in the United States.
The question the chiropractic profession and its educational institutions should be asking is whether we are prepared with a workforce to serve this growing geriatric population. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that chiropractic will grow faster than the general workforce and the future employment outlook is strong.
Data on aging and retiring DCs
Chiropractic schools in the United States hover around an enrollment of 10,000 students in any given year. This has been a consistent figure for some decades. There was a demographic blip in the mid to late 1990s that swelled our student bodies to a high of 15,000. This was a result of a larger-than-usual under- graduate population.
There is not a great deal of data on the aging of the chiropractic practitioner. The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners provides some insights in their studies of the profession in broad areas by the number of years in practice. The profession has had its own demographic blips, such as those who served in the military during WWII and had the GI Bill, which allowed those individuals to go to chiropractic school.
Preparing for a doctor shortage
So what have other health professions done to prepare for a workforce or doctor shortage?
The medical professions projected a severe shortage of doctors to serve a growing population and increased enrollment in medical schools by 30%. In a similar fashion osteopathic schools increased enrollment by doubling the number of schools and growing graduation rates from 1,500 to 4,500 DOs per year.
Health care is changing in this country, and numerous innovations have taken place. COVID-19 has accelerated the pace. One of the innovations is telehealth and virtual classrooms. All health profession educational institutions have had to deal with moving curriculum to an online environment. Schools that have labs and clinical rotations needed to revise their approach and timing within their teaching schedules.
Are we adding the resources that are needed? Having a larger portion of our population retired will have an impact on the economy, with potentially slower growth. The entire population demographic in the U.S. is experiencing major revisions. California’s white population is now 38%, with other groups making up the majority. Changing cultural and diversity issues will impact all society.
DC education with the future in mind
For educational institutions that prepare the next generation of health providers the needed workforce has always been a statistical question.
Chiropractic schools are seeing a changing demographic at their schools. Practitioners in the field are 70% male and 30% female. The schools’ ratios are closer to 50-50% male/female. Student body diversity is occurring. The Association of Chiropractic Colleges is surveying to develop an understanding of these changes.
What we do know is that chiropractic care is growing. The Department of Veterans Affairs has had a steady growth of providers giving care. The baby boomer population is an active group. We can also learn about aging populations by studying Japan’s experience, for example.
So, as suggested by the aforementioned examples, we need to continue to train future chiropractors mindful of the nation’s pending needs. We will be competing with other health professions for students in what is a shrinking demographic pool of students attending undergraduate schools.