The Physician Shortage — Five Key Takeaways from the Latest Data

Think it's challenging recruiting doctors now? The job might get even tougher in the years ahead, with the latest analysis forecasting a possible shortfall of more than 100,000 physicians by 2030. Earlier this year, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released its 2017 update on "The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand."


While the full report includes a lot of number-crunching, trying to predict an unpredictable healthcare landscape more than a decade from now. But for recruiters it's worthwhile understanding what's in the new report, as healthcare and policy organizations will be taking a hard look at these numbers as they make their strategies for the years ahead.


Here are five key findings that will be driving the conversation:


1.  We'll Be Short by Anywhere from 40,000 to 105,000 Doctors. The new report updates previous estimates to 2030—reflecting the time needed to train physicians starting medical school this year. Here's the headline quote: "The latest projections continue to align with previous estimates, showing a projected shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 doctors." That wide range reflects the many factors affecting physician supply and demand: possible healthcare reforms, increased use of nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs), and trends in physician retirement.


2.  Primary Care Demand will be Affected by Growth in NPs. The estimated shortfall of primary care physicians is estimated at 7,300 to 43,100. That reflects fewer trainees going into primary care, leading to reduced supply at a time of increased demand due to population growth and aging. But the estimated shortage is actually lower than in last year's report—in part reflecting a higher projected supply of NPs in primary care.


3. Demand for Specialists is Rising Too. But unlike primary care, the supply of specialists is increasing as well as more trainees gravitate to these fields. The projected shortage of medical specialists (cardiology, gastroenterology, etc) ranges from 1,300 to 12,000. Meanwhile, the shortage of "other" specialists (anesthesiology, emergency medicine, etc) ranges from 18,600 to 31,000. For the "other" category, retirement decisions will have a major impact on the supply of specialists.


4. The Supply of Surgeons will Stagnate. The gap in surgical specialists is estimated at 19,800 to 29,000. Because of attrition, the supply of surgeons is not expected to increase — despite strong growth in demand.


5. The Policy Response is Unknown—So Far.  The AAMC calls for a "multipronged approach" to addressing physician shortage. That includes a plan for increased federal support for residency training. Also mentioned are "innovation in delivery; greater use of technology; improved, efficient use of all health professionals on the care team."


From a Recruiting Standpoint, It's a Lot to Think About. Especially in the shifting political landscape, it's difficult to predict how all of these projections will affect healthcare systems and recruiters seeking to connect and seal the deal with a limited pool of qualified candidates. But here are a few issues to consider:

  • How will the nationwide trends play out in your market and region? For example, some commentators argue that the problem is inefficient distribution of physicians, not their numbers.
  • Keep an eye on the NPs. NPs (as well as PAs) are in important part of strategies for responding to the primary care shortage, including in underserved areas.
  • Are You Building Relationships with Key Specialties? Competition for specialists is likely to be tough—with different scenarios for specialties like anesthesiology, emergency medicine, psychiatry, surgery. Healthcare organizations and recruiters can consider ways of building awareness and connections with these specialist communities.
  • Think About Retention. It's usually more efficient to retain an effective practitioner than to find a new one. What steps can your organization or clients take to retain current professionals, including incentives to delay retirement?

Contact us to develop your multichannel campaign to reach qualified healthcare professionals.

Contact us to develop your multichannel campaign to recruit qualified physicians.

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