New data shows potential 100k+ shortfall of physicians by 2030: 8 things to know

The U.S. faces a shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 physicians by 2030 — though the shortage of physicians by 2025 is now projected to be smaller than previous estimates, according to updated data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"The nation continues to face a significant physician shortage. As our patient population continues to grow and age, we must begin to train more doctors if we wish to meet the healthcare needs of all Americans," AAMC President and CEO Darrell Kirch, MD, said in a statement.

Here are eight key findings from the 2017 report.

1. The 2017 report puts the 2025 shortfall at about 34,600 to 88,000 physicians, indicating a slight reduction from last year's report. In 2016, AAMC projected a shortfall of 61,700 and 94,700 physicians by 2025. Differences in the projections year-over-year are due to updated trends and data, such as a noted growth in physician assistant and advanced practice registered nurse supply. This year's report also extends the projections an additional five years to 2030. AAMC estimates the U.S. will face a shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 physicians by 2030.

2. The nation faces a shortfall of 7,300 to 43,100 primary care physicians by 2030. This marks a reduction from last year's projected PCP shortage of 14,900 to 35,600 by 2025. The estimate has been reduced due to a projected acceleration in the growth rate of nurse practitioners in primary care. The supply of APRNs and PAs is also expected to increase so that the ratio of physicians to APRNs to PAs will change from 7:2:1 to 3:5:1 in 2030, according to the report.

3. Specialist shortfalls will range from 33,500 to 61,800 practitioners by 2030. Most of this shortage is concentrated in surgery and other specific areas, such as psychiatry. The range of this projection has widened — for both the minimum and maximum — from last year, when the AAMC estimated a shortfall of 37,400 to 60,300 non-primary care specialists by 2025.

4. AAMC expects a pressing need for surgical specialists as supply for surgical specialists is projected to remain stagnant while demand grows. AAMC expects the need for surgical specialists to grow to between 19,800 to 29,000 providers by 2030.

5. The declining supply of providers is primarily attributed to retirement. About one-third of the current physician workforce will reach age 65 or older in the next decade, meaning many will begin seeking retirement.

6. At the same time, the general population will increase and age — driving growth in demand for providers. The AAMC based its projections on an expected 12 percent increase in population from 2015 to 2030. As the population grows, a significant demographic shift will also occur. The cohort of Americans over age 65 is expected to grow 55 percent during this time frame, while the group of Americans under age 18 will only grow 5 percent.

7. If the U.S. is able to improve access to care, this will put additional strain on the provider workforce in terms of numbers and diversity. AAMC modeled two scenarios of increased utilization. The first scenario shows what would happen if uninsured people and those living in rural areas used care at the same rates of their insured counterparts in metropolitan areas. AAMC estimates need for 34,800 additional physicians under this scenario. The second scenario projects the need if every American had the same access to care as non-Hispanic white, insured populations living in urban areas — raising need for an additional 96,800 physicians.

"Not only do these utilization equity data highlight the need for the nation to train more doctors, they also demonstrate the importance of a diverse healthcare workforce. Many of those who underutilize healthcare — despite their need — are from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds," Dr. Kirch said in a statement. "A diverse and culturally competent workforce will enable us to provide the care all Americans need and deserve."

8. Population health goals are also driving demand. In a new portion of the report, the AAMC gauged how achieving certain population health goals, such as reducing body weight, improving blood pressure and smoking rates, would affect physician demand. Short-term demand for physicians would decrease as population health improved, but by 2030 the growth in the elderly population combined with the expectation to meet certain population health goals would require an additional 15,500 physicians.


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