The AAMC recently published updated results of its physician workforce analysis, which modeled physician demand and supply to project the needs of the 2030 workforce. The analysis shows that physician demand will continue to outpace supply, which will lead to a physician shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 full time equivalencies (FTEs) by 2030.
Within primary care, the shortage is projected to fall between 14,800 and 49,300 physicians, which incorporates various assumptions about the supply and partnership of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and Physicians Assistants in the future, as well as the current estimated need for 13,800 physicians to reconcile the primary care shortage from currently designated shortage areas.
Projections for non-primary care specialties, including medical, surgical and other specialties, show an estimated shortage of between 33,800 and 72,700 physicians. The greatest projected gap is for surgeons, which is between 20,700 and 30,500 by 2030. While the supply of surgeons is projected to stay steady over time, the demand is expected to increase. “Other” specialties, which include emergency medicine, anesthesiology, psychiatry, radiology, and others, has a projected gap of between 18,600 and 31,800.
The main driver behind the increasing demand for physicians is the growing and aging U.S. population. Between 2016 and 2030, “the U.S. population is projected to grow about 11 percent, from about 324 million to 359 million. The population under age 18 is projected to grow by 3 percent; the population aged 65 and older is projected to grow by 50 percent; and the population aged 75 and older is projected to grow by 69 percent.”[i] Similarly, on the supply side, the aging population of physicians and their associated retirement decisions will impact the severity of the gap. “More than one-third of all currently active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade. Physicians aged 65 and older account for 13.5 percent of the active workforce, and those between the ages of 55 and 64 make up nearly 27.2 percent of the active workforce.” [ii] Physicians’ weekly working hours are also currently trending downward across all physician age groups.
The report also modeled access to care, which is another factor that may impact demand in the future. There are currently inequities in access to care based on geographic, economic and sociodemographic factors. While projected physician shortages based on these factors was not included in the long-term projection estimates, the 2016 models show that if the country commits to improving access to care for disenfranchised groups, the demand for physicians will be drastically increased.
The AAMC is currently advocating for a multipronged approach to address the physician shortage including the improved use of technology, team-based care, and delivery innovations, as well as the increase of federal funding for additional residency positions. The AAMC is clear that the U.S. government needs to act in the short-term to expand graduate medical education to address the long-term physician demand identified in the report, as physician training is a ten-year process. Federal funding for residency positions has not been expanded since the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. While there have been two pieces of legislation recently introduced (explained below), which would provide funding for additional residency spots,[iii] neither have gained much traction since introduction.
- The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2017 provides comprehensive reform to federal funding for graduate medical education.
- Lifts the funding cap placed on the number of residents and fellows funded by Medicare
- Adds an additional 3,000 federally-supported residency positions each year for the next five years
- The Opioid Workforce Act of 2018 specifically targets and funds residency training for areas of critical need.
- Adds an additional 1,000 federally-supported resident positions over the next five years in hospitals that have, or are establishing, programs in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, or pain management
Prospective and current medical students should familiarize themselves with this report, especially when considering their future fields of study. Many medical schools are echoing the demand for students interested in primary care, as well as those committed to working in rural or otherwise underserved locations; In 2017, the AAMC reports that nearly 30% of those entering medical school plan to work in an underserved area. Additionally, these topics are likely to come up in interviews and at networking events.
The AAMC has committed to updating the projections on an annual basis and makes the report available online.
The final report for 2018 created by IHS Markit Ltd for the AAMC is available here: https://aamc-black.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/85/d7/85d7b689-f417-4ef0-97fb-ecc129836829/aamc_2018_workforce_projections_update_april_11_2018.pdf