Look to reimbursement to ease pediatrician shortages, UChicago leader says

As healthcare staffing shortages persist, one specialty that continues to feel the scarcity is pediatrics.

Pediatric medicine saw 4,142 dropouts from 2021 to 2022, making it the fifth highest number of specialty dropouts, according to a report by Definitive Healthcare. 

"I just took care of someone yesterday who needed an appointment with a subspecialist and it's a yearlong wait, and that all of 2024 was booked. I think that there are definitely shortages," Alison Tothy, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and chief experience and engagement officer of UChicago Medicine, told Becker's

A nonprofit academic medical health system, UChicago Medicine consists of the Medical Center, Pritzker School of Medicine and the Biological Sciences Division. With over 40 institutes and centers, the health system has 805 beds, almost 850 attending physicians, around 2,500 nurses, and more than 1,000 residents and fellows, according to its LinkedIn page

Dr. Tothy said fair pay, reimbursements, loan repayment and burnout are just some of the key factors causing a pediatric shortage.

"I really do believe examining reimbursement rates for child services is incredibly important. Realigning them to meet the escalating costs in general of healthcare, I don't think that pediatric reimbursement has met those rises," she said. 

Dr. Tothy said children are requiring increased resources, be that from a developmental or mental health standpoint, which is placing stronger burdens on pediatricians. 

"We aren't necessarily providing the support structure to help pediatricians navigate these complicated spaces," Dr. Tothy said. 

Working as a pediatric emergency medicine physician, Dr. Tothy said people with acute problems often get redirected to the pediatric emergency department due to lack of availability with general pediatrics.

"I worry that the patients that I send out that I know need follow-up care can't get the follow-up care in the moment that they need it. Sometimes we keep them longer in the pediatric emergency department to be able to take care of them more thoroughly than we might if we can ensure that in the next couple of days they would have a follow-up," she said.

Dr. Tothy is hopeful that in getting medical students immersed in pediatric shadowing and early hands-on patient experience, more people will join the field.

"I really love taking care of children and I love taking care of healthy adults," she said. "When you take care of children, you're not just taking care of the child, you're taking care of the whole family. To me, that's really important."

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