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Physician Shortage to Quadruple Within Decade, AAMC Says

Christopher Cheney, for HealthLeaders Media, January 4, 2011

The numbers do not look promising.

According to an Association of American Colleges report, U.S. specialties will reach a shortage of 91,500 doctors by 2020. The AAMC predicts Americans will need an estimated 45,000 primary care physicians and 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists.

"It's certainly the worse [shortage] that we'll have seen in the last 30 years," says AAMC chief advocacy officer Atul Grover.

"For the first time since the 1930s, our number [of physicians] per capita will start to drop in the next couple of years. That's less doctors per person, but at the same time, since they are aging and have more chronic illnesses, each person is going to need more healthcare and not less healthcare. That's a pretty bad situation," he says.

There are currently 709,700 physicians (in all specialties) for a demand of 723,400 physicians, with an existing shortage of 13,700. By comparison, in 2020, there will be 759,800 physicians (in all specialties) for a demand of 851,300 physicians, essentially a shortage of 91,500 too few doctors, according to the report.

One third of all physicians will be turning in their white coat and stethoscope for retirement, states the report, but the supply of doctors will only increase by 7%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

With a tug and war between supply and demand, the predicted shortage of doctors will leave many Americans without any, or with insufficient, care. The most affected areas will likely to be rural regions and inner-city areas, according to the report. Because physicians are not evenly distributed across the country per capita, there are likely to be gaps in provider services in less-recruitable parts of the country, such as rural and inner-city areas.

Crunching the numbers
The shortage of 91,500 is a higher estimate than other studies have previously reported. The AAMC report is based on data from the Center for Workforce, which includes utilization of medical care, as well as census projections of the U.S. population. Researchers factored in physician retirement rates, increases in doctors from various specialties and regions, and healthcare insurance expansion.

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5 comments on "Physician Shortage to Quadruple Within Decade, AAMC Says"


Carlos Ming (6/25/2011 at 12:42 PM)
You know who is pushing this "physician shortage" comic book story over and over again? Hospitals and insurance companies. THERE IS NO SHORTAGE. The golden dream of health care corporations is for there to be an OVERPOPULATION of physicians. This menas more competetion and LESS REIMBURSEMENT, so these gargoyles can have even more profit. Take a look at countries like spain, or argentina in which primary care phsyicians make even less money than people who didn't even finish a college education.

Layton Lang (5/11/2011 at 4:09 PM)
There is no physician shortage!!!! The figures are false. The problem is that we have plenty of working physicians; they are not geographically distributed correctly. The report fails to take into account all of the foreign trained physicians coming into the country. Lastly, the article assumes we are all going to practice medicine the same as we have been doing for 40 years. As we know, due to the glut of physician labor, patients receive more care than they actually need because of the competition for business.

Terry Brown, D.O. (1/20/2011 at 11:46 AM)
Did this include D.O.s as well as MDs. Anybody know? D.O.s of course have all the same specialties as MDs.