America’s physician shortage could hit 124,000 in 13 years

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The U.S. could face a shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by 2034, according to new data released June 11 from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The estimate compares to the association’s 2020 report, which projected a shortage of 54,100 to 139,000 physicians by 2033.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the deepest disparities in health and access to healthcare services and exposed vulnerabilities in the health care system,” David Skorton, MD, the association’s president and CEO said in a news release. “The pandemic also has underscored the vital role that physicians and other healthcare providers play in our nation’s healthcare infrastructure and the need to ensure we have enough physicians to meet America’s needs.”

The life science division of IHS Markit, a global information company, conducted the study, and data for the study were collected in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The association said the study includes supply and demand scenarios and was updated with the latest information on healthcare trends, such as revised numbers from the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, an HHS agency responsible for improving access to healthcare to people who are uninsured, isolated and otherwise medically vulnerable.

Five findings from the study:

1. The 2021 update shows a potential shortage of 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034.

2. The U.S. faces a potential shortage of 21,000 to 77,100 nonprimary care specialty physicians by 2034. This includes 15,800 to 30,200 for surgical specialties, as well as 3,800 to 13,400 for medical specialties.

3. Population growth and aging are cited as the primary drivers of the projected physician shortage from 2019 to 2034. The analysis accounted for projections suggesting the U.S. population will grow by 10.6 percent, from about 328 million to 363 million, by 2034, with the population of Americans ages 65 and older increasing by 42.4 percent.

4. The association also accounted for the potential influence of physician retirement in its physician shortage projections. More than 2 of 5 active physicians will be older than 65 in the next decade.

5. Improved access to care would increase the need for physicians. The association estimates suggest current demand would increase by an additional 180,400 physicians if marginalized minority populations, people living in rural areas and the uninsured used care the same way as those with coverage in metropolitan areas.