Why new estimates project a smaller physician shortage: AAMC

By 2036, the U.S. could see a shortage of up to 86,000 physicians — a smaller estimate from what the Association of American Medical Colleges reported in their 2019 forecast.

In 2019, the AAMC forecasted the shortfall would be up to 124,000 by 2033. The group said the difference in the latest projections reflects a new set of scenarios based on "hypothetical future growth in the number of medical residency positions nationwide," and warned that, without continued investments in graduate medical education, the nation will end up seeing a much larger shortfall that more closely mirrors the previous estimate of up to 124,000. 

The nation's increasing demand for physicians is driven by two primary factors: population growth (8.4% between 2021 and 2036) and an aging population, according to the AAMC's new report. Within the next 12 years, the nation's population of adults 65 and older is estimated to grow by more than 34%. Meanwhile, a large proportion of the physician workforce is nearing the traditional retirement age of 65, with forecasts indicating more than a third of currently active physicians will retire within the next decade. 

Residency slots in the U.S. haven't kept pace with growing enrollment in medical schools, largely due to a federally imposed cap from 1996 on support for residencies. Last year, HHS invested $11 million to create new residency programs in rural communities throughout the country, which is the type of continued investment AAMC says is needed to mitigate the physician shortage. 

"Without funding beyond current levels, the graduate medical education growth trajectories hypothesized in this year's report will not materialize," David Skorton, MD, president and CEO of the AAMC, said in a March 21 news release. "The new data show a smaller projected overall shortfall, demonstrating that this strategy can work if we continue to invest in the physician workforce." 

In addition to removing the federal cap on residency funding, the group is also calling for Congress to pass the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act, bipartisan legislation that would increase the number of Medicare-backed residency positions by 14,000 over seven years. 

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