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American College of Surgeons Issues New Health Care Reform Agenda, Emphasizes Need to Address Access, Surgical Workforce Shortage

Survey of Americans Finds Vast Majority Agree the Shortage Must Be Addressed

CHICAGO, Dec. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming 111th Congress prepare for the many policy issues potentially complicating the process of achieving effective health care reform, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) has released a comprehensive policy statement to help frame the debate. Specifically, the ACS calls on policymakers to support a reform approach that improves access to safe, high-quality, and affordable surgical care. A key objective of the ACS effort is to address the crisis of access to quality surgical care by emphasizing policies that will remedy the surgical workforce shortage affecting the country.

The ACS's focus on and concern about patient access to safe and effective surgical care and the looming surgeon shortage is supported by a recent public opinion poll it conducted. Results of the survey indicate that 86 percent of Americans feel a potential surgeon shortage is an important issue to be addressed as part of any health care reform process.

"Access to surgical care is eroding in many communities across the country and for some it is nonexistent," said L. D. Britt, MD, MPH, FACS, Brickhouse Professor and Chair, department of surgery, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA, and Chair of the ACS Board of Regents. "The availability of a highly trained surgeon can mean life or death to a patient in need. Policymakers must address the root causes of this workforce shortage because patient care must not suffer."

Today, fewer doctors coming out of medical school pursue surgical training, raising concerns about the long-term impact of surgical workforce availability due to the additional years required for surgical training.

Those fears are echoed by survey respondents, as most said they were concerned that: there are 50 percent fewer general surgeons today than there were 20 years ago (79 percent concerned); there are not enough qualified surgeons to staff emergency trauma centers across the country (89 percent); the number of medical students who become general surgeons has decreased 30 percent over the last 10 years (81 percent); and three-quarters of U.S. hospitals say they don't have enough specialty surgeons to treat their patients (86 percent).

To ensure the United States has a well-trained and available surgical workforce to meet patient needs, the College encourages lawmakers to create policies that:

  • Help eliminate disparities in surgical care by expanding the National Health Service Corps to include surgeons. The College believes that doing so will help increase public service and also assist surgeons with medical school debt.
  • Support and help fund a national health workforce database to identify areas with little or no access to surgical care.
  • Explore alternative methods for paying for health care to ensure the presence of an adequate and robust surgical workforce over time by working with the ACS to develop a demonstration program.
  • Reduce medical errors, improve safety, provide patients with higher quality care, and potentially reduce the incidence of medical liability cases by partnering with the College and the surgical community to test surgical and patient safety initiatives.

"It is our job to ensure that all Americans have access to innovative, high-quality, and affordable surgical care," said Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS, ACS Executive Director. "Creating an environment in which all patients -- rural or urban, wealthy or poor -- have access to the surgical care they need must be an essential element of health care reform. We look forward to working with policymakers, patient advocates, and the surgical, medical, and health care communities to make sure that when a surgeon is needed, the resources are there."

In addition to workforce and access issues, the College also lays out policy recommendations to improve quality and safety and reduce overall health care costs.

The College takes a "shared responsibility" approach in its policy statement and recommends that all stakeholders work together to build a better health care delivery system. In addition, the ACS outlines related activities it is committed to undertaking to meet its policy objectives. These commitments include providing better educational and quality measurement resources and opportunities, promoting health information technology (HIT) among the surgical community, and developing better patient safety standards to help reduce medical errors.

The American College of Surgeon's Statement on Health Care Policy Reform can be found at

About the AmericanCollege of Surgeons

The American College of Surgeons is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons that was founded in 1913 to raise the standards of surgical practice and to improve the care of the surgical patient. The College is dedicated to the ethical and competent practice of surgery. Its achievements have significantly influenced the course of scientific surgery in America, and have established it as an important advocate for all surgical patients. The College has more than 73,000 members, and it is the largest organization of surgeons in the world. For more information, please visit

Survey Methodology

The poll was conducted by Washington DC-based KRC Research on behalf of the American College of Surgeons (ACS). The telephone survey was fielded November 25 - December 2, 2008, from a national sample of 1,003 adults 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States. The margin of error for the study at the 95 percent confidence level is +/- 3.1 percentage points. Raw polling data available upon request.

SOURCE American College of Surgeons
Copyright©2008 PR Newswire.
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