Well, this is disturbing. A new report shows that the number of medical students opting to go into nephrology — the specialty involving caring for kidneys — is dropping, even as the need for such physicians is on the rise.

A paper published last evening in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology highlights a decline in the number of new doctors going into the field, and attributes it in part to the common perception that kidney doctors are overworked and underpaid. The paper features an illuminating selection of blog entries written by medical students; together they suggest that the lifestyle of a nephrologist holds little appeal to the new generation of doctors, who are represented as perhaps valuing a balanced lifestyle and sane work schedules more than their elders did.

The paper also notes that part of the problem might lie in the way nephrology is taught in med schools; students report that it’s overly technical and lessons are not engaging. That doesn’t bode well for the future, and it helps explain why nephrology (along with geriatric medicine) is one of only two medical specialties that’s seen the number of doctors choosing to practice in that field drop over the past decade. The paper calls for efforts to draw more med students toward nephrology as an attractive field of practice.

Meanwhile, the need for nephrologists grows more acute as increasing numbers of people suffer from chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease; hypertension and diabetes, both widespread, are the two leading causes of chronic kidney disease, according to the paper. Moreover, the authors note, health-care reform might soon draw more Americans into the system, many of them bringing with them kidneys that will require medical care.

From the paper’s conclusion:

Ultimately, the future of nephrology and the health of millions of people with kidney disease will depend on the ability of each nephrologist to help students and residents love the specialty.