There could be a U.S. physician shortage between 54,000 and 139,000 by 2033, according to a new report by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
"The gap between the country's increasing healthcare demands and the supply of doctors to adequately respond has become more evident as we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic," AAMC President and CEO Dr. David Skorton said in a prepared statement. "The challenge of having enough doctors to serve our communities will get even worse as the nation's population continues to grow and age."
Before the pandemic, patients already reported being affected by physician shortages, according to research completed last fall for AAMC by Public Opinion Strategies. At that time, 35% of respondents said they had trouble finding a doctor in the past few years.
The pandemic made it apparent that the shortage in specialty physicians, particularly hospital-based ones like critical care, emergency medicine and pulmonary specialists is "particularly urgent," Skortin said. Hospitals in hard-hit areas have had to turn to untraditional solutions, such as expanding scope of practice laws, graduating medical students early, rehiring retired physicians and bringing in physicians from other regions, in order to handle the influx of patients, he said.
The report, The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2018-2033, was completed in 2019 for AAMC by the Life Science division of IHS Markit and doesn't reflect the impact COVID-19 has had on projections.
Based on the report's findings, there could be a shortage between 21,400 and 55,200 for primary care physicians and between 33,700 and 86,700 for nonprimary care specialties by 2033.
That demand primarily is being driven by population growth and aging. And, if access to care were improved for different races and ethnicities, rural populations and uninsured individuals, the demand could be even greater, the report found.
To compound the issue, more than two out of every five active physicians will be 65 or older in the next decade, the report found. "Growing concerns about physician burnout suggest physicians will be more likely to accelerate than delay retirement," according to the report.
AAMC recommends the federal government end the freeze on federal funding for graduate medical education.