The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) published new research back in April that confirms what many American organizations are already predicting: that the United States will face a shortage of physicians over the next decade.
The research was conducted by the Life Science division of the global information company IHS, Inc. The research includes feedback from the healthcare research community and surveys recent workforce data as well.
The findings from this research in particular indicate looming physician shortages in four broad areas: primary care, medical specialties, surgical specialties, and other specialties. Moreover, the study estimates that by 2025, there will be a shortage of between 14,900 and 35,600 primary care physicians. Non-primary care specialties, meanwhile, are expected to see a shortage of between 37,400 and 60,300 physicians.
As of 2014, 45 states had fewer psychiatrists relative to their populations than they had in 2009, illustrating a widening gap between patient need and available care. AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, commented as a psychiatrist on the issues that could arise with such an extreme shortage of physicians. “As a psychiatrist, I have seen firsthand what it means for patients not to be able to receive the care they need. These projected shortages are very troubling and only reinforce the importance of ensuring that all patients have access to health care for their physical and mental well-being.”
In addition to shortages of primary care physicians and psychiatrists, shortages of general and vascular surgeons are expected. This will become an especially pressing issue as the U.S. population ages, with older patients needing two to three times the amount of specialty care as younger patients for their chronic conditions and age-related illnesses.
Darrell Kirch makes the additional point here that as the U.S. population ages, so does the physician workforce. One-third of today’s physicians are now over the age of 55, and this only means that many of today’s physicians will soon retire, contributing significantly to that looming shortage of physicians.
The AAMC supports a multifaceted solution to this expected shortage. The solution involves better use of technology, innovations in care delivery, and increased federal support that would provide over 3,000 additional residency positions each year for the next five years. Currently, medical schools are working to close the shortage gap by increasing class sizes; according to Kirch, this leaves it up to Congress to provide the financial support that these future physicians will need to receive the residency training necessary for providing care independently.