15 things to know about physician shortages

Practice Management

With millions of more Americans becoming insured under the Affordable Care Act, the demand for physicians is rapidly increasing. However, our nation will likely face a shortage of physicians and will need to devise solutions to combat this looming crisis.

Here are 15 things to know about physician shortages.


1. The United States will face a shortage of between 46,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025. While the shortage may not seem like an immediate crisis, it typically takes between five to 10 years to properly train a physician. 2


2. The United States will need an increase of 4,000 physicians each year to combat the physician shortage. 2


3. In 2012, there were 260.5 active physicians per 100,000 residents in the United States. Massachusetts had a high of 421.5 active physicians compared to a staggering low of 180.8 physicians in Mississippi. The states with the highest number of physicians per 100,000 residents are generally concentrated in the Northeast. 1


4. The number of physicians graduating from medical school each year is remaining steady at approximately 29,000 physicians each year. Of these physicians, 29 percent will enter into primary care specialties, 18 percent will enter into medical subspecialties, 19 percent will enter into surgical specialties and 35 percent will enter into other specialties.  3


5. Physicians in many specialties are nearing retirement (over 55 years of age), particularly in the fields of occupational medicine and cardiology.


Here is the breakdown by specialty of physicians nearing retirement.


•    Anesthesiology: 41 percent
•    Cardiology Non Invasive: 50 percent
•    Dermatology: 38 percent
•    Emergency Medicine: 30 percent
•    Family Medicine: 37 percent
•    Gastroenterology: 42 percent
•    General Surgery: 33 percent
•    Hospitalist: 1 percent
•    Internal Medicine: 40 percent
•    Nephrology: 32 percent
•    Neurological Surgery: 34 percent
•    Neurology: 43 percent
•    Obstetrics & Gynecology: 34 percent
•    Occupational Medicine: 78 percent
•    Oncology: 13 percent
•    Ophthalmology: 44 percent
•    Orthopedic surgery: 44 percent
•    Otolaryngology: 38 percent
•    Pediatrics: 35 percent


6. More than one-fourth (27.6 percent) of the active physician workforce was 60 years old or older in 2012. There was some difference among the states in the percentage of physicians who were age 60 or older in 2012. New Mexico had the highest percentage (33.3 percent), while North Carolina had the lowest percentage (22.6 percent). 1


7.  Physicians are also retiring earlier than they originally planned. In Deloitte's 2013 Survey of U.S. Physicians, six in 10 physicians stated it is likely many physicians will retire earlier than planned in the next one to three years. 9


8. The AMA predicts shortfalls in primary care will range between 12,500 to 31,000 physicians by 2025. In comparison, demand for non-primary care physicians will exceed supply by 28,200 to 63,700 physicians. In 2013, primary care physicians accounted for 32 percent of the total physicians across all specialties. 3


9. In 2012, there were 90.1 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents in the United States. Massachusetts was at the top with a value of 131.9, while Mississippi had the lowest number of primary care physicians per 100,000 residents (63.4). 1


10. The aging population and population growth are expected to account for 81 percent of the increasing demand for physicians between 2010 and 2020, according to a Health Resources and Services Administration study. Additionally, the expansion of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is projected to change the demand for physicians.  5


11.  Approximately two-thirds of seniors by age 65 have at least one chronic disease and see seven physicians. This raises cause for concern with more than 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day. 8


12. The Affordable Care Act's implementation in 2010 resulted in a rise in newly-insured patients with approximately 16.4 million Americans entering the healthcare system since the ACA was enacted. With the influx on new patients, the Association of American Medical College projects the total physician demands will increase to 17 percent.  6


13. U.S. physicians suffer more burnout than other American workers. The 2015 Medscape survey revealed the highest burnout rates were found in critical care (53 percent) and emergency medicine (52 percent). In the report, nearly half of all family physicians, internists and general surgeons reported burnout. Various factors cause physician burnout including "too many bureaucratic tasks, spending too many hours at work and income not being high enough among several others. 7


14. Rural physicians make up a only about 10 percent of the total number of working physicians in the country.10


In the entire United States, there is a recommended one primary care physician per 1,300 persons. In rural areas the ratio is one primary care physician per 1,910 persons. 11


15. Many healthcare physicians are devising ways to combat the physician shortage such as engaging, training and redeploying medical assistants and other health workers. MAs are able to perform advanced tasks including panel management, health coaching, scribing and other clinical duties. Medical assistant jobs are among the fastest growing occupations in primary care with jobs projected to rise by 29 percent from 2012 to 2022. 6



1 AAMC 2013 State Physician Workforce Data Book.  Available at: https://www.aamc.org/download/362168/data/2013statephysicianworkforcedatabook.pdf


2 AAMC Physician Supply and Demand Through 2025: Key Findings.  Available at: https://www.aamc.org/download/426260/data/physiciansupplyanddemandthrough2025keyfindings.pdf_


3 AAMC The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013 to 2025. Available at: https://www.aamc.org/download/426242/data/ihsreportdownload.pdf?cm_mmc=AAMC-_-ScientificAffairs-_-PDF-_-ihsreport


4 Jackson & Coker 2015 Physician Salary Calculator. Available at: http://www.jacksoncoker.com/Static/Resources/Physician-Salary-Calculator


5 HRSA Projecting the Supply and Demand for Primary Care Practitioners Through 2020. Available at: http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/healthworkforce/supplydemand/usworkforce/primarycare/


6 Fortune's "How to tackle America's physician shortage." Available at: http://fortune.com/2015/08/10/how-to-tackle-americas-physician-shortage/


7 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report 2015. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/sites/public/lifestyle/2015


8 AMA – "Coping with baby boomers and staggering statistics." Available at: http://www.amednews.com/article/20100920/opinion/309209958/5/ -


9 Deloitte 2013 Survey of U.S. Physicians. Available at: http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/life-sciences-health-care/us-lshc-deloitte-2013-physician-survey-10012014.pdf


10 US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. Available at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/census_issues/archives/metropolitan_planning/cps2k.cfm(www.fhwa.dot.gov).


11 AAFP. Available at http://www.aafp.org/home.html

Copyright © 2023 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Webinars

Featured Podcast

Featured Whitepapers