Study: The Physician Shortage is Increasing

The number of physicians reaching retirement age in the next decade is a major factor contributing to the United States’ ongoing — and critical — physician shortage, according to a study released last month. Couple that fact with the increase in population of people age 65 and over and the COVID-19 pandemic’s placing increased demand on healthcare providers, and it becomes clear how the healthcare need gap is only expected to grow wider.

The Association of American Medical Colleges released its study, “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2019-2034,” in June 2021, just as we passed the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While U.S. healthcare workers may no longer be under siege by the coronavirus, it and pandemics like it, remain a constant threat. Therefore, while the study was begun before the pandemic, the authors incorporated some lessons learned from the pandemic about the impact of physician shortages during the emergency.

The study found that the U.S. could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians in both primary and specialty care by 2034. In primary care specifically, the estimated shortage is expected to be between 17,800 and 48,000 physicians, the study said.

While every physician has their own retirement path, knowing that more than two out of every five physicians active right now will be 65 or older in the next decade could have large implications for the physician supply, the study added. It also noted the growing concern over physician burnout — which could mean more physicians accelerate the path to retirement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the deepest disparities in health and access to health care services and exposed vulnerabilities in the health care system,” said AAMC President and CEO Dr. David J. Skorton, MD, said in a statement. “The pandemic also has underscored the vital role that physicians and other health care providers play in our nation’s health care infrastructure and the need to ensure we have enough physicians to meet America’s needs.”

Physician Retraining & Reentry was created in partnership with the University of California, School of Medicine to address the ongoing threat of physician shortages in the U.S. By re-educating, transitioning and returning experienced physicians to practice as primary care doctors, PRR is helping both physicians who are looking for a change and communities in need of healthcare.

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