In selecting the subject of his presidential address, SVS President Michel Makaroun, MD, decided to focus on the inadequacy of vascular manpower to meet the demands and needs of the public.
In introducing the subject, he quoted a favorite saying from Mark Twain that gave him the topic of his address, “I am in favor of progress; it’s change I don’t like.” He then proceeded to outline why changes are necessary and what the Society for Vascular Surgery is doing to help implement them.
“You are all familiar with the highlights of the problem: It is in our numbers! A problem with multiple facets, including unfilled jobs, increasing demand, maldistribution and a demographic cliff of our membership,” Dr. Makaroun said.
The manifestations of this shortage are multiple. The number of advertised jobs far exceeds the number of graduates. There is also a significant maldistribution of the workforce. “We are concentrated in the northeast, and many populous states including Texas, Florida and California are well below average,” he said.
Additionally, many community hospitals, in both suburban areas or small towns completely lack any access to vascular surgical care, even in states with seemingly adequate numbers.
The shortage problem in vascular surgery will get worse before it gets better, he added, saying “Our pipeline is simply not large enough to overcome an older retiring generation of vascular surgeons, with nearly half retiring before 65.”
“Change does not come easy!” Dr. Makaroun warned.
“We cannot ignore in the discussion of workforce issues, the major shifts, change and uncertainty we are experiencing in health care delivery, education and the generational change of our newest members,” he said.
More than 10% of vascular surgeons now practice primarily if not exclusively in ambulatory facilities. This direction is gathering steam and reduces the pool of vascular surgeons available to accept hospital practices and cover emergencies, particularly in underserved communities.
Despite this movement, nearly two-thirds of SVS members are currently employed by hospital systems that are getting larger and larger, making it essential to navigate an ever more complex decision-making process in employment, compensation and spectrum of activities. Practice environments are becoming more corporate and bureaucratic.
Dr. Makaroun pointed out that the current landscape of our manpower has a clear two tiers divided by hospital size and location. “The most pressing concern is the inability of our specialty to provide vascular surgery services to the multitude of hospitals located in smaller communities.
“The SVS established a task force to study our manpower issues last fall. The taskforce was divided into three workgroups to focus on different areas of the problem.
The first workgroup, under the leadership of Malachi Sheehan III, MD, and Jeffrey Jim, MD, focused on the obvious solution: a campaign to increase training programs and available positions. Unfortunately, this is only aspirational, since reality fails the SVS in this effort. The pool of general surgery graduates is finite, with competition from several specialties that are more analogous to modern general surgery than vascular surgery.
Increasing the number of integrated programs is less efficient because of a 5- to 6-year lag between initiation of a new program and graduation, but it can tap into an almost unlimited pool of applicants from medical school, and more recently some very qualified international medical graduates. This makes it potentially a far more effective solution for the long term, Dr. Makaroun said.
The workgroup attempted to contact all hospitals with a general surgery program and no associated vascular fellowship. Help in navigating the process of securing financing and applying for a new program was offered. A session was conducted at VAM for interested potential sites to start discussing the process, and representatives from 27 hospitals were there expressing interest.
The second workgroup, under the leadership of Rick Powell, MD, and Andy Schanzer, MD, was tasked with analyzing and understanding the entire spectrum of surgeons’ clinical activities and producing a valuation study that illustrates the economic and vital impact of vascular surgery for hospitals and patients. “The work of this group is essential to promote a healthier relationship between our specialty and our institutions, making vascular surgery more attractive for future recruits,” according to Dr. Makaroun.
The third workgroup under the leadership of Will Jordan, MD, and Tim Sarac, MD, had the toughest job, said Dr. Makaroun. It was tasked with thinking outside the box and suggesting methods to address the most glaring need: the community hospitals, where most of the advertised jobs are, jobs that are being shunned by graduates of current training programs.