The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Center for Workforce Studies has released new physician shortage estimates that are 50 percent worse than anticipated before health care reform legislation was passed.
The United States, like most of the world, is already facing a critical physician shortage. The problem will intensify as 32 million Americans acquire health care coverage, and an additional 36 million aging Baby Boomers qualify for Medicare.
Some key findings of the study include:
• Between now and 2015, the year after health care reforms take effect, the shortage of doctors across all specialties will quadruple. Previous projections showed a shortage of 39,600 doctors in 2015, current estimates bring that number to almost 63,000. The shortage will intensify through 2025.
• Non-primary care specialists will also be in short supply. In 2015, the United States will be short 33,100 physicians in specialties like cardiology, oncology, and emergency medicine.
• Our aging population will simultaneously, and dramatically, increase demand for care. The U.S. Census Bureau projects a 36 percent increase in the number of Americans over age 65. And nearly one-third of all physicians are expected to retire in the next decade.
• The AAMC has lobbied hard to expand the physician training pipeline. The number of medical school students has increased, and will add 7,000 more graduates every year over the next decade. However, the AAMC warns that unless Congress supports at least a 15 percent increase in residency training slots (adding another 4,000 physicians a year to the pipeline), access to health care will be out of reach for many Americans.
The AAMC points out that, “The shortfall in the number of physicians will affect everyone, but the impact will be most severe on vulnerable and underserved populations. These groups include the approximately 20 percent of Americans who live in rural or inner-city locations designated as health professional shortage areas.”1
Locum tenens physicians have traditionally served “vulnerable and underserved populations.”If a significant percentage of physicians nearing retirement age opt for part-time, flexible locum tenens work instead, agencies like VISTA can help ease the burden and get doctors where they are needed most.