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Research: Physician Shortage Likely to Have Severe Impact on Patient Care

Research: Physician Shortage Likely to Have Severe Impact on Patient Care

The United States continues to face a projected physician shortage over the next decade, creating a real risk to patient care, according to new data released by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The latest projections continue to align with previous estimates, showing a projected shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 doctors.

For the third consecutive year, the Life Science division of the global information company, IHS Markit, conducted a study of physician supply and demand on behalf of the AAMC, modeling 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. This year’s report extended the date of the projections by five years, from 2025 to 2030, to account for the time needed to train a physician who would start medical school in 2017. The report also includes an expanded section modeling the additional demand for physicians that would be generated by health care utilization equity.

“The nation continues to face a significant physician shortage. As our patient population continues to grow and age, we must begin to train more doctors if we wish to meet the health care needs of all Americans,” said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D.

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 7,300 and 43,100 primary care physicians. Non-primary care specialties are expected to experience a shortfall of between 33,500 and 61,800 physicians.

These findings are largely consistent with the 2015 and 2016 reports. In particular, the supply of surgical specialists is expected to remain level, while demand increases. The study also finds that the numbers of new primary care physicians and other medical specialists are not keeping pace with the health care demands of a growing and aging population.

“By 2030, the U.S. population of Americans aged 65 and older will grow by 55 percent, which makes the projected shortage especially troubling,” Kirch said. “As patients get older, they need two to three times as many services, mostly in specialty care, which is where the shortages are particularly severe.”

Expanding on last year’s findings, the new report also includes an analysis of the needs and health care utilization of underserved populations. These data show that if the barriers to utilization were removed for these patients, and all Americans accessed health care at the same levels as insured, non-Hispanic white populations, the United States would have needed up to 96,800 doctors in 2015. Nearly three-quarters of those physicians would be needed in metropolitan areas. This figure is in addition to the projected workforce shortage based on current practice patterns.

“Not only do these utilization equity data highlight the need for the nation to train more doctors, they also demonstrate the importance of a diverse health care workforce. Many of those who underutilize health care — despite their need — are from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds,” Kirch said. “A diverse and culturally competent workforce will enable us to provide the care all Americans need and deserve.”

To help alleviate the physician shortage, the AAMC supports a multipronged solution, including expanding medical school class size, innovating in care delivery and team-based care, making better use of technology, and increasing federal support for an additional 3,000 new residency positions per year over the next five years.

“We urge Congress to approve a modest increase in federal support for new doctors,” Kirch said. “Expanded federal support, along with all medical schools and teaching hospitals working to enhance education and improve care delivery, would be a measured approach to solving what could be a dangerous health care crisis.”

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 comprise all 147 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 nearly 160,000 faculty members, 83,000 medical students, and 115,000 resident physicians. Additional information about the AAMC and its member medical schools and teaching hospitals is available at

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