There’s a doctor deficit in Horry County.
According to a South Carolina Office for Healthcare Workforce study completed in 2016, there were 24.9 physicians for every 10,000 people in South Carolina. In Horry County, there were 19.
The sheer number of people is growing faster than the physicians moving into the community and faster than we can recruit physicians.
Warren Ratley, Conway Medical Center vice president
There were 10 primary care physicians for every 10,000 people in South Carolina, but in Horry County, there were less than eight, according to the study.
“Our population around here is growing,” said Conway Medical Center Vice President Warren Ratley. “The sheer number of people is growing faster than the physicians moving into the community and faster than we can recruit physicians.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area was the second-fastest growing area in the U.S. between 2015 and 2016.
The greatest shortage is in primary care, according to Ratley. Primary care involves family medicine, which serves youth up to age 18, and internal medicine, colloquially referred to as ‘cradle to grave’ care.
In this community, right at 21 percent of physicians currently serving are 60 or older. That means at some point they’re retiring so that’s contributing to the deficit as well.
Mark Sims, Grand Strand Health CEO
A community-needs assessment conducted by Grand Strand Health showed the fastest-growing demographic in Horry County is the 65 years old and older crowd, said its CEO Mark Sims.
“Our numbers are telling us that the population is growing 10 percent over the next five years,” Sims said.
But the problem isn’t limited to population growth.
“In this community, right at 21 percent of physicians currently serving are 60 or older,” he said. “That means at some point they’re retiring so that’s contributing to the deficit as well.”
And residency programs for physicians are accepting fewer patients, said Tiffany Ellington, vice president of recruiting for McLeod Health.
You’ve got your newer physicians who are working less hours. That is really giving the whole physician workforce in general a lot of pressure.
Tiffany Ellington, McLeod Health vice president of recruiting
Of the doctors who end up going through a residency, many decide to specialize, she said. And younger doctors have different expectations about working hours.
“You’ve got your newer physicians who are working less hours,” Ellington said, adding that many of them want four-day work weeks. “That is really giving the whole physician workforce in general a lot of pressure.”
Monica Vehige, chief operating officer for McLeod Loris Seacoast, said a 2014 study done by McLeod Health predicted a shortage of 50 physicians in Horry County and parts of southern Brunswick County between 2014 and 2019.
“Obviously we’re not going to end up with 50 new primary care physicians,” she said.
But McLeod is trying to make a dent in that shortage with several residents at its Carolina Forest campus.
McLeod, Grand Strand Health and Conway Medical Center also are trying to build an emergency department in the area as well.
Grand Strand Health’s residency program welcomed 49 new residents this week, according to Sims.
“Data shows that 60 percent of residents end up practicing within 50 miles of where they train,” he said.
Sims, Ellington and Ratley all said that their hospitals were stepping up their recruitment game in order to get more physicians and retain the doctors they have.
“We try to make our situation as attractive as possible,” Ratley said. “We try to be competitive with everything you need to be competitive with but also make this a good place somebody would want to come to work and go home and be with their families.”