Have you heard that there’s a shortage of general surgeons? Those are the doctors who take out your gallbladders and appendixes, often in the middle of the night. They are the not-so-glamorous worker bees of the surgeon’s world. Their hours are rough and Congress and insurance companies keep cutting their fees. They don't make giant amounts of money performing procedures - certainly not as much as plastic surgeons or even podiatrists. And so it’s no wonder that so few medical students want to be general surgeons.
There are less than 1,000 new general surgeons each year in the US, and there are 5,000 fewer general surgeons now than in 1981. This shortage of general surgeons is reaching a crisis point - a third of rural hospitals do not have a general surgeon that lives in the same county as the hospital. Surgical emergencies require rapid trips to the operating room, and that is why the best hospitals have in-house general surgeons. But these are few and far between. Most do not. And as the shortage of general surgeons deepens, less will have that luxury. And that means when you wind up in a ditch on the side of the road in a rural area, you may be out of luck. And when you get that unbearable belly pain in the middle of the night that can only be fixed with the scalpel, or you need your spleen taken out because you just fell off your roof, you might not find a general surgeon in your hospital – and that may cost you your life.
The solution? Society needs to stop treating general surgeons like Rodney Dangerfield. General surgeons need respect and proper compensation. Once this happens, medical students will once again enter the field.