Me, Myself, as Mommy: What’s up, doc? Care provider shortage enough to keep you up at night
Sleep is becoming a real problem in my household. No, it’s not the new baby’s fault — because there is no new baby. It’s the 40-year-old man’s fault. Brian, my husband of 17 years, tosses, turns, sits up, swishes the sheets, stretches, nostril whistles and practices any manner of insomnia throughout the night. I’ve even witnessed him reading an actual book, which is equal to seeing a dog push a shopping cart. It’s been years, YEARS of this routine. Between his age, my age and patience, the sleeplessness is coming to a head, but I’m not really sure what that means, as tracking down why one isn’t sleeping is no easy task.
Brian is one of those people who can never sit still. He’s always puttering around, tinkering on some tasks I didn’t even know existed (it’s of course not a task on the honey do list), stewing over a project or knee deep in a hole he impulsively needed to dig. That brain is always running. Always the yin to his yang, my window of productivity is very narrow and “all in due time” is a great motto for any task. I sleep great. Even with all my sleep and his no sleep, he has more energy, is friendlier, completely likable and gets so much accomplished I’m grateful for his existence. Imagine what he could do with solid sack time!
Despite his ability to rally, sleep deprivation catches up with all of us at some point. Sleep debt is a real thing, one that builds up over time, eventually collecting the debt one way or another. Health is a common discussion in our home as we age and try to stave off the effects of the inevitable — my concern over his sleep deprivation usually heads the conversation. It’s not often recognized as a serious issue, but sleep deprivation can lead to a plethora of other health conditions like hypertension, heart disease and stroke. As in all things, the trusty Centers for Disease Control has stats on this issue, finding at least 50 million adults in the United States deal with some type of sleep issue. The average age is 25-44, so maybe he just needs to survive four more years of midnight wakefulness?
His journey to find sleep started with the commonsense solutions of routine, caffeine cut-offs and maintaining a solid sleep/wake schedule. Even with this, there’s no sleep. The next step was a general checkup from his doctor. Blood tests normal, hormones normal, with the advice to keep a sleep schedule. What a novel idea. Brian visited the urologist to see if there was a link; he left with no answers but did get a sleep clinic referral. The hoop jumping is what led me to this topic — why does it take six months to get into the doctor?
To get into a sleep clinic, it is almost a year out. To see my gynecologist, I have to wait three months. And for a general checkup from the dermatologist, be prepared to schedule months out. No one wants to work in health care and the ripples are spreading. The pandemic didn’t do the industry any favors. The mounting costs of education don’t help either, so now the patients are picking up the slack by way of languishing. This is by no means an attack on health care workers. They work tirelessly to care for patients and are the epitome of a front-line worker. They are just as exhausted by the shortage as those on the phones begging for an appointment.
It seems the days of a primary care doctor who treated your entire family are no more. That quick house call, the quick drop-in to the pediatrician for a sore throat or that relationship that made you feel like your doctor was a family friend seem to be over. Now it’s about who can see me the soonest. My health history isn’t oral, it’s accessible by anyone with the right password to access my digital chart. The landscape has changed and will change even further. The Association of American Medical Colleges says by 2034 the demand for primary care doctors will outpace the supply, with a shortage of 122,000 physicians. Just in time for my generation.
Greater minds than mine are currently taking the word “innovation” to a new level trying to solve this projected shortage. From the financing to the access, the issue is not lost on lawmakers, educators, financiers or health care providers. Upon graduation, many health care workers are looking at six-figure debt. The word is out and future generations aren’t willing to take on that kind of pressure. The American Medical Association says, “The cost of medical education should never be a barrier to the pursuit of a career in medicine.” Sure, it shouldn’t but it is.
Moving slowly through the bowels of Congress, in between bickering, is the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2023. It was proposed back in April as a way to entice students back into health care. The bipartisan legislation would add 14,000 Medicare-funded residency positions to help alleviate physician shortages that threaten patients’ access to care.
Our lawmakers can focus on this important legislation after they’re done fighting a pointless culture war and get back to work for the people. By that point, my husband may get into the sleep clinic to find out what’s keeping him awake each night. If it’s not the hormones, the stress, the caffeine or, hopefully, me, maybe it’s the fact that by the time he’s ready to spend his days in the waiting room, there won’t even be a doctor.
Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.