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There are approximately 14,000 licensed podiatrists in the United States. Over the next eight to ten years, many of the "baby boomer" podiatrists will reach retirement age and leave practice. These podiatrists entered practice at a time when class sizes at the colleges of podiatric medicine were large (over 600 graduates per year). In recent years, class sizes of most programs in the country have been much smaller (the class of 2006 has 414 students — more than either the class of 2004 or 2005); therefore, as these "baby boomer" podiatrists leave practice, they will not be replaced in the pipeline by a similar number of graduating podiatrists. This will result in an overall reduction in the number of practicing podiatrists.
B. Number of Podiatrists Currently Practicing in the Southwest
The 1999 projections from the Liaison Committee of the American Podiatric Medical Association indicated that Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico are at or below the forecast for podiatric physicians required in metropolitan areas with HMO and integrated network plans and non-metropolitan areas. Arizona is at or below the forecast of podiatric physicians required in metropolitan areas with fee-for-service plans.
C. Department of Labor Projections
In 2001, the U.S. Department of Labor projected a 10-20 percent increase in the need for new podiatrists through 2008.
D. The Competition Fallacy
Some podiatrists see their peers as competition and believe that a smaller number of podiatrists would be good for business. The recent APMA 2002 Podiatric Practice Survey clearly refutes that reasoning. Podiatrists who practice in groups earn substantially more than those practicing alone. A minimum number or "critical mass" of a profession's members is required to achieve the needed level of visibility to achieve success. This is true on both the local and the national level. To quote Jon Hultman, DPM, MBA, "If you believe that there are too many DPMs, you are neither recognizing the obvious favorable demographics which are poised to increase the future demand for podiatric medical services nor considering the untapped demand that is currently out there."
The 2000 Survey of Attitudes Toward Foot Care conducted by the APMA Department of Public Relations revealed that, not only are the most common foot problems treated at least as often by a non-podiatrist as they are by a podiatrist, but many times more patients with foot complaints see no doctor at all. Greater visibility resulting from more podiatrists and more group practices will attract those patients who do not know who to see or who have been unsuccessful with self-care.
E. Population Growth
A recent study by Health Affairs suggested that the United States will be facing a shortage of physicians. The forecast was based upon two findings. First was that previous population predictions for the United States have underestimated growth by 10 percent. Second, the number of hours worked by physicians is estimated to decline by 20 percent. Thus, the shortage of physicians will become severe, and they predict a deficit of 200,000 physicians by 2020. This same logic applies to the podiatry profession.