The Growing Shortage of Primary Care Doctors

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) published a disturbing report in March 2024. In this report, the association announced that America faces a physician shortage in the coming decade. By 2036, the country will need up to 86,000 physicians to fill open positions. Every American must recognize this and advocate for training new physicians to overcome this shortage. Without additional investments in training, the number could be even more dismal.

The Analysis
GlobalData Plc. conducted the study for the AAMC in 2023. The report shared multiple supply and demand scenarios to determine potential shortages in the future. This document also included information on healthcare delivery trends and the current state of the workforce in this industry. The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2021 to 2036 contained information on doctor work hours and existing retirement trends.

The Positive News
This report did not have all bad news. The shortage won't be as dire as predicted in 2021 due to additional medical residency positions projected to open. Teaching centers and the federal government must continue to invest in graduate medical education to reduce shortages, as these investments increase the physician supply. However, funding needs to grow to see the projected decline in physician shortages. These entities cannot become complacent. Until these positions open, however, healthcare organizations may need to turn to a VMS solution for locums tenens to fill gaps in their workforces.

Patient Care
Many Americans are struggling to find new primary care doctors and specialists. This problem affects the whole country rather than being restricted to one or two areas. The investments have helped increase mental health services and medical care in rural communities thanks to new resident programs in these areas. However, more work must be done, as countless individuals still cannot promptly receive the care they need.

Demographics and the Physician Shortage
America's population is growing. According to current estimates, the population will grow 8.4 percent in the next 12 years, while the older population is expected to increase by 34.1 percent. This number includes individuals aged 65 and older. Of those 75 and older, the population will grow by almost 55 percent. Older Americans require more care. They need doctors, particularly specialists, to provide this care.

Retirement Rates in Healthcare
Many of America's doctors are nearing retirement age. Approximately 20 percent of doctors today are 65 or older, which means they may retire in the coming months and years. Forty-two percent are 55 or older, which means they will retire in the next 10 or fifteen years. Who will replace them? This question remains on the minds of many today.

The physician shortage would be much worse if all American citizens had access to the same level of care. Experts predict the physician shortage would have reached almost 203,000 if all Americans had equal care in 2021. Imagine the backlog in the healthcare system if those numbers were accurate and it is easy to see work must be done to fill open physician positions.

Government Assistance
Congress recognizes the physician shortage as a great concern. Congressmen from both sides introduced the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act, which aims to reduce the physician shortage by increasing Medicare-supported residency positions. In 2020 and 2022, Congress invested in Graduate Medical Education for physicians to expand and diversify the workforce and increase access to these medical professionals.

America must address the physician shortage or the problem will only worsen. Improving access to care without addressing the shortage will only exacerbate the problem. Medical schools have increased enrollment. Now is the time to expand graduate medical training. However, until new doctors are trained, locums tenens will be called on to fill open spots. Men and women taking on these positions can be actual lifesavers.

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