The United States could face a shortage of between 40,800 to 104,900 physicians by 2030—though the projected shortfalls for 2025 and primary care providers are now below previous estimates, according to a new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
The findings mark the third year in a row that AAMC has projected that physician demand will continue to outpace supply in coming years. According to the latest report, the country this year is experiencing a shortage of between 13,900 and 25,900 physicians.
Projections fall for 2025, primary care providers
AAMC also updated its projections for the 2025 benchmark established in last year's report. Specifically, AAMC estimated that by 2025, the United States would face an overall shortage of between 34,600 and 82,600 physicians—a reduction from its 2016 report, when it predicted a shortage of between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians by 2025.
When broken down by provider type, AAMC estimated that the country would face a shortage of between 7,300 and 43,000 primary care physicians (PCPs) by 2030. This marks another decrease from previous estimates, when AAMC estimated a shortage of between 14,900 and 35,600 by 2025.
The report attributed the updated projection to a growing number of nurse practitioners providing primary care services. In addition, according to the report, the supply of advanced-practice nurse practitioners (APRNs) and physician assistants (PAs) is expected to grow, with the ratio of physicians to APRNs and PAs increasing from 7:2:1 to 3:5:1 in 2030.
Specialist shortfall to grow
For specialists, AAMC projected that by 2030 the country would face a shortage of between 33,500 to 61,800 such providers—a slighter wider projection than issued last year, when AAMC projected a shortage of between 37,400 and 60,300 specialists by 2025. In its latest report, AAMC projected particular shortages among surgeons and psychiatry, with an expected shortage of between 19,800 and 29,000 surgeons by 2030.
Reasons behind shortage
AAMC said physician retirement is the primary factor behind the declining supply of providers. According to the report, about one-third of currently practicing physicians will be at least 65 years old within the next decade, meaning many will begin seeking retirement.
Meanwhile, AAMC said the number of people over age 65 is expected to increase by 55 percent by 2030. In addition, AAMC said the provider workforce could be further strained if there are improvements in access to care and/or pressure in trying to meet certain population health goals.
To address the physician shortage, AAMC is calling for a "multipronged solution" that would include:
- Expanding medical school class size;
- Innovation in care delivery and team-based care;
- Better use of technology; and
- Federal support to create 3,000 new residency positions annually for the next five years.
AAMC President and CEO Darrell Kirch in a statement said, "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 health care workforce." He added, "Expanded federal support, along with all medical schools and teaching hospitals working to enhance education and improve care delivery, would be a measured approach to solving what could be a dangerous health care crisis" (Rappleye, Becker's Hospital Review, 3/15; Finnegan, FierceHealthcare, 3/15; AAMC release, 3/15; AAMC report, 2/28).
The changing physician workforce
Concerns about physician burnout have made national headlines, and the stresses facing health care providers continue to grow. Vendors that want to work with physicians need to understand this new clinical environment before they can succeed.
Check out the infographic to get a breakdown of the changes that are impacting the physician workforce. You'll also learn four new rules of engagement to help suppliers and service firms realign their offerings with the realities of health care providers.