Doctor shortage: Is El Paso catching up?

Doctor shortage: Is El Paso catching up?

Editorial courtesy of El Paso Inc.

By Robert Gray/El Paso Inc. Editor – March 8, 2020

Source: Texas Medical Board data analyzed by El Paso Inc.
Source: Texas Medical Board data analyzed by El Paso Inc.

It’s no secret that El Paso has an acute shortage of physicians – really everything health-care related. It’s been a common refrain for years if not decades, because it’s true. And it impacts anyone who has made an appointment and sat in a waiting room in El Paso, meaning pretty much everybody.

As Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso celebrated its 10th anniversary on Feb. 28 (photos on page 16A), I wondered: Is El Paso making progress?

Thankfully, the Texas Medical Board makes the data available on its website, tmb.state.tx.us, where it publishes the number of physicians by county and by year, sliced and diced in several different ways.

I fed some of the data into a spreadsheet in search of the answer to two questions: Is the number of physicians growing, and is El Paso catching up to other Texas counties?

The answer to the first question: The number of doctors in El Paso County is growing, but remains comparatively low.

From 2009 to 2019, the number of doctors in El Paso grew from 1,068 to 1,613, according to the most recent data available. That’s a 51% increase.

A major turning point for El Paso’s health system occurred in 2009 when the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine admitted its first class. And another occurred on Valentine’s Day in 2012 when El Paso Children’s Hospital opened.

Those events correspond with a surge in the number of physicians in El Paso. And the graph showing the year-over-year increase in doctors from 2007 to 2013 looks like a bell curve, peaking at a 7% increase from 2011 to 2012.

Along the way, El Paso’s private hospital networks have invested hundreds of millions to expand their health systems. And the trend over the past few years has been up, with the number of doctors increasing 6% from 2018 to 2019.

“When the school started in 2009, there were only 40 students,” Texas Tech El Paso President Dr. Richard Lange recently told El Paso Inc. “We’ve now graduated 520.

“At the time, there was a 75% shortage of physicians in El Paso, just compared to the national average. Right now, it’s currently at a 50% shortage.”

The answer to the second question: The number of doctors in El Paso is growing faster than in some other Texas counties.

From 2010 to 2019, the number of doctors in El Paso County grew by 44%. That compares to 22% in Nueces County, 28% in Dallas County, 31% in Bexar County, 31% in Hidalgo County, 33% in Tarrant County and 40% in Travis County.

Although the trend in El Paso is encouraging, the city’s economy overall still lags behind many other U.S. metro areas. Job market rankings published recently by the Wall Street Journal again highlighted the challenge.

The business publication worked with Moody’s Analytics to assess the labor market in hundreds of U.S. metro areas. Each region was ranked on five metrics: the unemployment rate, labor-force participation rate, job growth, labor-force growth and wage growth.

In the list of metros with fewer than 1 million people, El Paso ranks toward the bottom of the list – 221 of the 328 metro areas.

There is so much to love about El Paso, but the key challenge remains increasing the number of high-skill, high-wage jobs that will allow more of the city’s talented young people to stay (or attract more young professionals to the city).

It’s clear that El Paso’s expanding health sector is helping close that gap. But it’s also clear that the city has a long way to go on that front.