The Aging Physician Workforce’s Impact on the Primary Care Physician Shortage

Prescriptions for Change: PRR Explores the U.S. Primary Care Physician Shortage

About half of all physicians in the primary care specialty were age 55 or older in 2021, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). So many primary care physicians nearing retirement age is a leading contributor to the primary care physician shortage – which is expected to be between 17,800 and 48,000 physicians by 2034, the AAMC reports.

In a 2023 interview with Medscape, AAMC Director of Workforce Studies Michael Dill said, “It’s a significant concern in terms of whether we have an adequate supply of physicians in the U.S. to meet our nation’s medical care needs. Anyone who thinks otherwise is incorrect.”

When burnout, often cited as the other leading cause of the primary care physician shortage, is coupled with doctors at or near retirement age — the result is a catastrophic defection from the profession at a high rate. This leaves many people without the healthcare they need.

Indeed, 35% of patients reported to the AAMC in a 2019 public opinion poll that they had trouble finding a physician during the previous two or three years. That number increased by 10% from 2015.

The AAMC report and Medscape article both name a variety of ways to address the growing physician shortage. These include legislation to boost the number of students enrolling in medical school and residency programs; using registered nurses and physician assistants in different ways; removing licensing barriers for immigrant physicians and redesigning how practices are set up to alleviate the administrative burdens placed on doctors by insurance companies.

While those are larger, systemic proposed solutions to retain physicians in the workforce longer, there are steps many physicians take on their own to improve their situations and practice longer. Some may reduce their schedules or add telehealth to their services to enjoy more flexibility while others find switching specialties by retraining and reentering practice to be the refreshing change they need.

Physicians Retraining & Reentry is here to help licensed physicians of all ages and circumstances who are looking to continue or return to practice as primary care physicians. PRR’s graduates work in publicly funded clinics and private practices, while some volunteer with nonprofit community health care providers to give back during their retirement.

With so many people’s health — and lives — at risk, PRR’s graduates are making a difference for individuals and in addressing the greater primary care physician shortage, even near or after retirement.

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