The United States could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030, impacting patient care across the nation, according to new data published today by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges). The report, The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2016-2030, updates and aligns with estimates conducted in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and shows a projected shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians by the end of the next decade.
“This year’s analysis reinforces the serious threat posed by a real and significant doctor shortage,” said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD. “With the additional demand from a population that will not only continue to grow but also age considerably over the next 12 years, we must start training more doctors now to meet the needs of our patients in the future.”
The Life Science division of IHS Markit, a global information company, conducted this fourth annual study of physician supply and demand on behalf of the AAMC. The study modeled a wide range of health care and policy scenarios, such as payment and delivery reform, increased use of advanced practice nurses and physician assistants, and delays in physician retirements.
The report aggregates the shortages in four broad categories: primary care, medical specialties, surgical specialties, and other specialties. By 2030, the study estimates a shortfall of between 14,800 and 49,300 primary care physicians. At the same time, there will be a shortage in non-primary care specialties of between 33,800 and 72,700 physicians. These findings are consistent with previous reports and persist despite modeling that takes into account the use of other health professions and changes in care delivery.
As in prior projections, much of the increased demand comes from a growing, aging population. The U.S. population is estimated to grow by nearly 11%, with those over age 65 increasing by 50% by 2030. Additionally, the aging population will affect physician supply, since one-third of all currently active doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade. When these physicians decide to retire could have the greatest impact on supply.
This year’s report also repeated an analysis first conducted in 2017, which examined physician workforce demand if underserved populations had care utilization patterns similar to groups with fewer barriers to health care and physician access. According to the data, if people living in non-metropolitan areas and people without insurance used care the same way as insured individuals in metropolitan areas, the nation would have needed an additional 31,600 physicians in 2016, with nearly half of those needed in the South. If all Americans had utilization patterns similar to non-Hispanic white populations with insurance in metropolitan areas, the U.S. would need an additional 95,100 doctors immediately.
In addition to training more physicians, the AAMC believes that a multi-pronged approach is necessary to ease the physician shortage. Medical schools and teaching hospitals are educating future physicians in team-based, interprofessional care, developing innovative care delivery and payment models, and integrating cutting-edge technology and research into the patient care environment. The AAMC also supports legislation that would increase federal support for an additional 3,000 new residency positions each year over the next five years. These additional slots are crucial since every medical school graduate needs to complete training after medical school to practice independently.
In addition, the AAMC supports federal incentives and programs such as the National Health Service Corps, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the Conrad 30 Waiver Program, and Title VII/VIII workforce development and diversity pipeline programs, all designed to recruit a diverse workforce and encourage physicians to enter shortage specialties and to practice in underserved communities.
“Medical schools and teaching hospitals are working to ensure that the supply of physicians is sufficient to meet demand and that those physicians are ready to practice in the health care system of future,” Kirch said. “To address the doctor shortage, medical schools have increased class sizes by nearly 30% since 2002. Now it’s time for Congress to do its part. Funding for residency training has been frozen since 1997 and without an increase in federal support, there simply won’t be enough doctors to provide the care Americans need.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members are all 154 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their more than 173,000 full-time faculty members, 89,000 medical students, 129,000 resident physicians, and more than 60,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences.