US risks 139K physician shortage by 2033, AAMC warns

Dive Brief:

  • The United States could see an estimated shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians, including notable shortfalls in specialty care, by 2033, according to the American Association of Medical College’s annual report released Friday.
  • The report predicts a shortage of primary care physicians between 21,400 to 55,200 by 2033. Across specialty physicians, there could be a shortage of 33,700 to 86,700.
  • An aging population continues to be the primary driver for increasing demand for medical services and staff. At the same time, aging physicians could take away from the needed labor supply, as more than two of five currently active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade. And growing concerns about physician burnout suggest physicians will be more likely to accelerate than delay retirement, the report found.

Dive Insight:

For years, many have raised concerns about an impending physician shortage. AAMC’s findings are in line with previous years, though this latest report was conducted prior to the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may exacerbate the issue.

“The challenge of having enough doctors to serve our communities will get even worse as the nation’s population continues to grow and age,” AAMC President and CEO David Skorton said in a statement.

The current public health crisis is likely to have short and long-term consequences on the nation’s physician workforce, according to AAMC. Educational pipeline issues and the changing ways in which medicine is practiced could present added challenges.

“The gap between the country’s increasing health care demands and the supply of doctors to adequately respond has become more evident as we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” Skorton said.

This year’s analysis gives shortage estimates based on medical specialty areas. It found the U.S. could be short around 21,4000 to 55,200 primary care physicians by 2033.

Projected Physician Shortages by 2033

Medical Areas Shortage Range
Primary care Between 21,400 and 55,200 physicians
Nonprimary care specialties Between 33,700 and 86,700 physicians
Surgical specialties Between 17,100 and 28,700 physicians
Medical specialties Between 9,300 and 17,800 physicians
Other specialties (radiology, pathology, psychiatry) Between 17,100 and 41,900 physicians

This year’s report also looked at underserved populations, estimating that if they were to have the same healthcare use patterns as those with fewer barriers to access, current demand could rise by an additional 74,100 to 145,500 physicians.

To address shortage concerns, AAMC is pushing for increased support of medical students through the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2019, which would provide increased Medicare support for an additional 3,000 new residency positions each year over the next five years.

It also wants Congress to end the freeze on federal funding for graduate medical education that has been in place since 1997, limiting financial support for the training of new physicians, according to the report.

The study also mentioned a poll conducted in September 2019 by Public Opinion Strategies for AAMC, where 35% of voters said they had trouble finding a doctor in the past two or three years. That’s a 10-point jump from when the question was asked in 2015.