Study: Physician work force shortage expected to reach 20% by 2025

July 21, 2011

The U.S. will face serious shortages in the combined work force of physicians, advanced practice nurses, and physician assistants over the next 2 decades, say researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. By 2025, the physician shortage alone could reach 20%.

The U.S. will face serious shortages in the combined work force of physicians, advanced practice nurses, and physician assistants over the next 2 decades, say researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. By 2025, the physician shortage alone could reach 20%.

Without an adequate supply of advanced medical professionals, the U.S. won’t meet the goals of health care reform, concluded the study’s authors, who published their findings in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons (2011; 212:991-9).

Researchers drew upon data from the American Medical Association, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the Physician Assistant Education Association, among others, to project the future supply of practitioners. They then contrasted these figures with separate projections of demand, based on expectations of expenditures made by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and the Congressional Budget Office.

"It is important to note that more than two-thirds of advanced clinicians are physicians and that the U.S. is training fewer physicians per capita each year," said senior author Richard Cooper, MD. "Despite the participation of more advanced practice nurses and physician assistants in both primary and specialty practices, the physician shortage has increased about 1% annually and is now 7% to 8% nationally, although its severity varies in different locales."

Although training programs for advanced practice nurses and physician assistants are expected to grow continually, there is little evidence that the same will be true for physicians. Yet if physician training programs are not expanded, Dr. Cooper says the current shortages are expected to expand to 20% by 2025. Because of the long lead times necessary to train more physicians, adding as many as 500 additional entry-level positions annually will decrease the future shortages by only a few percent; even with 1,000 more entry-level positions added annually, shortages will be 14% to 15% in 2025, or double the current rate.