By 2034, the U.S. physician shortage will be between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) annual physician supply and demand report (PDF), which was released on Friday.
The projected physician shortage is lower than what AAMC reported last year, when researchers predicted a shortage of 54,100 to 139,000 physicians by 2033.
Two reasons the projected shortage is now lower are a larger estimate in the number in residency positions, including a slight increase in residency funding under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and recently revised federal Health Professional Shortage Area designations that revealed smaller starting-year shortage estimates for primary care and mental health positions, the report noted.
Much of the data for this year’s report was collected prior to COVID-19. More key takeaways from the report are below.
AAMC 2021 physician shortage report: More main findings
- AAMC predicts that the primary care physician shortage will be between 17,800 and 48,000 by 2034.
- The specialty physician shortage will be between 21,000 and 77,100, including:
- A shortage of between 15,800 and 30,200 for surgical specialties.
- A shortage of between 3,800 and 13,400 for medical specialties (allergy and immunology, cardiology, critical care, dermatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology and oncology, infectious diseases, neonatal and perinatal medicine, nephrology, pulmonology, and rheumatology).
- A shortage of between 10,300 and 35,600 for other specialties (anesthesiology, emergency medicine, neurology, pathology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychiatry, radiology, and other specialties).
- The main drivers of increasing demand for physicians are population growth and population aging. The U.S. population is expected to grow about 11% between 2019 and 2034, and the population of U.S. seniors age 75 and older is expected to grow 74% during that time.
- More than 40% of the active physician workforce is nearing age 65, which is considered traditional retirement age, or over 65.
- Researchers predict that the overall impact of COVID-19 on physician supply and demand will be small, despite major short-term disruptions. However, the impact of COVID-19 on physicians themselves, including physician practice patterns, will be much greater.
“COVID-19 appears to have accelerated a deepening crisis in the well-being of physicians, nurses, and other health care workers,” the report notes. “Health care workers already experience burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide at disproportionate rates. … Given that physician burnout and job-related depression and PTSD were not being addressed adequately pre-pandemic, the effect is unlikely to resolve merely with a successful vaccination campaign.”