The Facts

  • By 2030 the US will face shortages between 41,000 and 105,000 physicians
  • The largest shortfall appears to be the Primary Care Physicians
  • Medical specialties, surgical specialties, and other specialties—are expected to experience a shortfall of between 33,500 and 61,800 physicians

The Causes

The growth in the number of residency positions—and thus the number of doctors—slowed after the passage of the Balanced Budget Act. From 1997 to 2002

The primary factors driving demand are population growth and an increase in the number of older Americans, according to the study. The total U.S. population is expected to grow by about 12% by 2030.
Also, by 2030, the number of U.S. residents aged 65 and older is expected to increase by 55%, and the number of people aged 75 and older will grow by 73% during the same period.

“This makes the projected shortage especially troubling, since 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,” said AAMC CEO and President Darrell G. Kirch, MD.

For all specialties, retirement decisions of practicing doctors will have the greatest effect on future physician supply, the report notes. More than one-third of all active physicians will be 65 or older in the next 10 years.

American medicine is already experiencing a devastating crisis within its workforce*. In a recent Medscape survey**, 44% of American physicians reported feeling burned out, 15% reported feeling depressed, and 14% reported thoughts of suicide. Between 300 and 400 doctors kill themselves every year***, a rate more than double that of the general population. And the crisis may be getting worse.**** In the long term, large US cities will not face the most severe repercussions of the projected doctor shortage. Urban areas tend to have the largest and most renown clinical hospitals and the highest concentration of the qualified healthcare professionals.

As of 2018, one in three practicing physicians in the U.S. is over the age of 65 and close to retirement In contrast, US rural areas are already experiencing acute doctor shortages, especially among general surgeons. In addition to other social issues, this factor is one reason rural areas are at risk of further depopulation.

The Solution

The AAMC continues to advocate for increased federal support for an additional 3,000 residency positions annually over the next five years. Although medical schools have expanded class sizes, it will be hard to increase the overall number of practicing physicians without greater support for graduate medical education.

Congress must, at the minimum, lift the graduate medical education funding caps implemented by Mr. Clinton’s 1997 law.

An even better response would be to increase Medicare funding to create more residency positions.

* Kunal Sindhu, MD • Radiation Oncology Feb 21, 2019
** Sara Berg, Senior News Writer American Medical Association
*** NPR July 31, 20185:06 AM ET
**** Marcela G. del Carmen, MD, MPH1,2; John Herman, MD3; Sandhya Rao, MD4,5