While the healthcare labor force in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is growing along with its population and economy, it's a tale of two Texases, as lower-income parts of the region and the state face shortages in physicians, nurses and other skilled staffers, and primary-care providers remain in short supply.
Meanwhile, the infusion of federal money from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that potentially could help remedy those shortages has been limited by the state's political resistance to Obamacare and its Medicaid expansion.
A record 4,610 doctors applied for Texas medical licenses last year. The number of physicians in Dallas County increased to 5,972 from 5,876. In Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth and Arlington, the number of physicians grew to 3,568 from 3,478. In Collin County, which includes Frisco, McKinney and Plano, the doctor supply jumped to 1,763 from 1,657.
But most of the new physicians in Texas are going to Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio or Austin, said Dr. David Wright, an Austin family physician and chairman of the Texas Medical Association's Council on Medical Education. That choice is “widening the disparity between rural or semi-rural healthcare and the tremendous growth in suburban areas,” he said. The state needs more physicians in family medicine, general internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology, psychiatry, general pediatrics and pediatric cardiology, nephrology and surgery, he said.
“Overall, we do have a healthy doctor workforce, though, like most places, we can use more primary-care physicians,” said Michael Darrouzet, the longtime executive vice president and CEO of the Dallas County Medical Society. “The economy is good, so there are patients with insurance and employers who believe in healthcare.”
He attributes at least part of the growth in Texas' physician supply—the number of new-physician state licensures rose from 2,088 in 2001 to 3,594 in 2013—to the Legislature's 2003 decision to cap pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice suits.