Physician Shortages are Here and Reaching Crisis Levels: Everything You Need to Know

Dawn Pascale

Physician Shortages are Here and Reaching Crisis Levels: Everything You Need to Know

It’s safe to assume there isn’t a single clinician or healthcare administrator out there today that doesn’t know about the looming physician shortage. These shortages are already here and they’re about to get a whole lot worse. What’s the state of our doctor headcount these days and how can you prepare for the coming storm?

By the Numbers—State of U.S. Physician Shortage

In 2017, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) sounded the alarm; the U.S. would experience a doctor shortage of up to 104,900 by the year 2030. By 2021 they revised the numbers—and they got worse. According to the AAMC, by 2034 those numbers will increase to 124,000. To break that number down, the AAMC projects we’ll need:

  • Between 17,800 and 48,000 primary care doctors.
  • Between 21,000 and 77,100 nonprimary care doctors.
    • That’s 15,800 to 30,200 surgical specialists.
    • 3,800 to 13,400 specialists (cardiology, infectious disease, oncology, etc.)
    • 10,300 to 35,600 other specialists (addiction medicine, anesthesiology, ER, etc.)

AAMC suggests this shortage is worsening in part due to, “increasing clinician burnout, which has been intensified by the pandemic, could cause doctors and other health workers to cut back their hours or accelerate their plans for retirement.”

While COVID may have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, it’s obvious other issues were leading us down the path of fewer doctors. How did we get here?

What’s Causing the Physician Shortage

Definitive Healthcare suggests four primary factors that led us to a physician shortage:

  1. Population demographics are changing, both for doctors and their patients. The majority of the active physician workforce is over 50 now and heading toward retirement. We have the same issue with nurses. At the same time, the baby boomer generation has reached retirement age. Many of them have multiple, chronic conditions that place a strain on both their health but also the physician safety net that cares for them.
  2. Rural hospitals are experiencing big shortages already. It’s harder to attract to rural communities, where salaries are lower as are activities and advancement opportunities (when compared to a large urban medical center). While there are incentives to head for rural communities, such as loan forgiveness, it still can be a hard sell for a young doctor to head for the hills.
  3. Medical school and residency programs have enrollment caps that can keep new students out. Med schools have increased their enrollments but we still have a glass ceiling of sorts at residency training programs around the country. It’s a bottleneck that we’ve yet to sort out.
  4. Physician burnout and retention. COVID was messy, and it caused some doctors to seek early retirement. At the same time, new doctors are seeking better pay but perhaps more importantly, increasing work/life balance. Definitive Healthcare says, “Physicians may actively avoid joining, or staying at, a facility that has unmanageable workloads like high daily volumes of procedures or patients.”

All of these issues have led us to physician shortages that will worsen in the coming years. What can your organization do right now to find talent?

One solution is as close as a phone call.

Alleviate Physician Shortages with New Partnerships

In difficult times, new partnerships emerge. MedSource Consultants is the nation’s leading healthcare recruiting firm specializing in clinical and administrative expertise. We proactively source and build relationships with clinical talent every day, something that your internal HR teams often simply don’t have time for.

Find out why healthcare organizations leverage our expertise. Call our experts at MedSource Consultants today at 800-575-2880.