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  • Press Release

    New AAMC Report Shows Continuing Projected Physician Shortage

    Media Contacts

    Christina Spoehr, Sr. Media Relations Specialist

    According to new projections published today by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), the United States will face a physician shortage of up to 86,000 physicians by 2036.  

    “Given the new findings, it is clear that both sustained and increased investments in training new physicians are critical to mitigating projected shortfalls of doctors needed to meet the health care needs of our country,” said AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD. “Most importantly, if additional investments critical to increasing the supply of physicians fail to materialize, projected shortfalls of doctors will be larger than presented in this latest report.”

    The new study, The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections From 2021 to 2036, was conducted for the AAMC by GlobalData Plc. This analysis was conducted in 2023 and includes multiple supply and demand scenarios. It was updated with the latest information on trends in health care delivery and the state of the health care workforce, such as data on physician work hours and retirement trends.

    By comparison, the shortage projected in the new report is smaller than the findings demonstrated in the last report published by the AAMC in 2021. The difference is due to a new set of scenarios based on hypothetical future growth in the number of medical residency positions nationwide. The new scenarios demonstrate the positive impact on physician supply if states, teaching health systems and hospitals, Congress, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) continue to build upon their investments in graduate medical education (GME).

    “Without funding beyond current levels, the graduate medical education growth trajectories hypothesized in this year’s report will not materialize,” Skorton cautioned. “The new data show a smaller projected overall shortfall, demonstrating that this strategy can work if we continue to invest in the physician workforce. The medical education community and policymakers are making real progress in our efforts to meet the projected health care needs of our communities, but we must not be complacent. We must continue to work with Congress to build on their recent bipartisan investments in Medicare-supported graduate medical education.”

    The physician workforce and the need for more physicians continues to drive the AAMC’s advocacy on GME.

    “We know that people struggle to find new physicians — both primary care and specialists — so the real-world impact of the physician shortages in our research findings is felt every day by people all over the country,” said AAMC Chief Health Care Officer Jonathan Jaffery, MD, MS, MMM. “While we’re grateful that our advocacy with Congress and CMS to create additional residency positions has been able to expand access — especially in rural communities and for mental health services — we also know that many of our friends, families, and neighbors still cannot always get the medical care they need. The ongoing physician shortage is a major part of the problem.”

    Other key findings from the report include:

    • Demographics — specifically, population growth and aging — continue to be the primary drivers for increasing the need for more doctors to meet the health care needs of tomorrow. By 2036, the U.S. population is projected to grow by 8.4%. Additionally, the population aged 65 and older is projected to grow by 34.1%, with an increase of 54.7% in the size of the population aged 75 and older. Since older Americans tend to need more health care and access more physicians, the AAMC projects this trend will lead to a substantial growth in demand, particularly for the specialists they need most often.
    • A large portion of the physician workforce is nearing the traditional retirement age. Physicians aged 65 or older are 20% of the clinical physician workforce, and those between age 55 and 64 are 22% of the clinical physician workforce. As a result, a significant number of physicians will reach retirement age within the next decade — if they have not already. The AAMC projects that this will significantly decrease the physician supply in the coming years. 
    • In addition, the AAMC examined and found that if communities underserved by the nation’s health care system could obtain care at the same rate as populations with better access to care, the nation would have needed approximately 202,800 more physicians as of 2021. This is more than five times the magnitude of current shortfall estimates based on current utilization.
      • Because these estimates look at alternatives to current utilization, these estimates were excluded from physician shortfall ranges, which are all based on current utilization patterns. 

    The report confirms that lifting the federal statutory cap on Medicare support for GME will help alleviate but not eliminate the current and projected doctor shortage. Bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act (H.R. 2389/S. 1302), would help address the physician shortage by gradually increasing the number of Medicare-supported residency positions by 14,000 over seven years. This increase would allow the United States to make even more progress toward providing the necessary primary care and specialty physicians necessary to meet the country’s workforce needs. This important legislation would build upon Congress’ historic investment in GME in 2020 and 2022 to help expand and diversify the physician workforce and improve access to care for patients and communities across the country. 

    “We are looking at substantial shortages of doctors that will not meet our future health care demands. Further, if we succeed in improving access to care for our growing and aging population, which we very much hope to do, then the workforce shortages will be even larger than projected in this report,” said Skorton. “Medical schools have done their part by increasing enrollment by nearly 40% since 2002. We must now expand graduate medical education so we are training more doctors to meet the nation’s health care needs.”

    Read the full report or the summary report.

    The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) is a nonprofit association dedicated to improving the health of people everywhere through medical education, health care, medical research, and community collaborations. Its members are all 158 U.S. medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education; 13 accredited Canadian medical schools; approximately 400 academic health systems and teaching hospitals, including Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 70 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC leads and serves America’s medical schools, academic health systems and teaching hospitals, and the millions of individuals across academic medicine, including more than 193,000 full-time faculty members, 96,000 medical students, 153,000 resident physicians, and 60,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences. Following a 2022 merger, the Alliance of Academic Health Centers and the Alliance of Academic Health Centers International broadened participation in the AAMC by U.S. and international academic health centers.