Evidence of a surgeon shortage is mounting. By 2032, the U.S. will lack as many as 23,000 surgeons, according to an April report on physician supply and demand from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
The report’s key findings include:
- Physician demand will continue to outpace supply, with a projected total shortfall of between 46,900 and 121,900 physicians by 2032.
- The U.S. will also see a primary care physician shortage of 21,100 to 55,200 physicians by 2032;
- A shortfall across non-primary care specialties of 24,800 to 65,800; and
- A shortage of physicians in surgical specialties of 14,300 to 23,400.
The surgeon shortage is of particular alarm considering the boom in aging Americans, the AAMC report notes. The number of people 65 and older is expected to reach 83.7 million in 2050, according to the U.S. Census.
A 2016 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) workforce analysis also projected shortages in nine out of 10 surgical specialties by 2025, with the largest shortages in general surgery, urology, ophthalmology and orthopedic surgery.
A 2018 assessment in the journal Surgery of the shortage of general surgeons found that “without increasing future general surgeons training numbers, the projected future general surgical workforce shortage will continue to grow.”
Impending surgeon shortage prompts introduction of legislation
Incentivizing general surgeons to practice in communities with workforce shortages remains a challenge. The first step to ensure more equitable access to care is to identify those areas.
Legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in March to counter the impending shortage. The Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act (HR 1841) would direct HHS to conduct a study to define and identify general surgery shortage areas and then give the Secretary of HHS the authority to designate general surgery shortage areas based on the study’s findings.
“Determining where patients lack access to surgical services will provide HHS with a valuable tool for increasing access to the full spectrum of high-quality health care services,” reads a statement by the American College of Surgeons to the representatives who introduced the legislation.