Overcoming the Extreme Physician Shortage in 2019


For several years now, healthcare industry thought leaders have been telling us that there was a looming physician shortage on the horizon.  Initially, it was reported that primary care was going to be the hardest hit because of an aging baby boomer population, an influx of newly covered patients through the Affordable Care Act, and the fact that over 30% of active physicians will be 65 or older by the year 2030. The initial primary and urgent care perspective still rings true. However, the physician shortage is actually impacting specialties across the spectrum of care.

According to Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) research data, the primary care shortage can be as high as 43,100 by the year 2030, while non-primary care specialties may experience a shortfall of up to 61,000 physicians.  Within those numbers, certain specialties, such as emergency medicine, neurology, psychiatry, anesthesiology, and others may experience a shortage of between 18,600 and 31,800 by the year 2030.

As concerning as the data is currently, it may actually get worse before it gets better. There is a large segment of our population that remains underserved.  According to AAMC data, as barriers to utilization are lifted through health law changes, more non-insured Americans are accessing health care.  Studies show that if all Americans accessed health care at the same levels as those who have typical employer-sponsored health care, we would need close to 100,000 additional physicians to provide their care.

There are no easy solutions to resolve the physician shortage crisis, but here are a few things worth keeping an eye on throughout the rest of 2019.

Increase residency programs.  Medical schools have taken steps to increase class sizes, yet the federal bureaucracy hasn’t increased support for residency programs commensurately.  The AAMC is calling on lawmakers to increase residency slots by an additional 3,000 annually for five years to support an increase in practicing physicians.

Streamline licensing process for international medical school graduates.  Did you know that almost 25% of today’s physician workforce are international medical graduates? Studies show that while these international graduates provide care on par or better than U.S. trained doctors, they face a cumbersome and complex licensure process to practice here. Further, they are required to complete redundant training programs here in the U.S. before licensure. At the risk of oversimplification, lawmakers and healthcare industry leaders should be able to resolve this by promoting legislation that simplifies the process.

Rising salaries and creative compensation.  Since 2013, salaries for Primary Care physicians have risen 10%, and in many cases more based on geographic location.  Because competition for physician services is so fierce, healthcare organizations are finding new and creative ways to entice candidates to their vacancies.  Signing bonuses and tuition repayment is one way that physicians are making more money, but other enticements include flexible scheduling, reduction or elimination of “call,” and much more.  Facilities in rural and underserved areas are feeling the recruitment crunch because the enticements they used to be able to offer exclusively, are now becoming commonplace.

Balancing non-physician utilization and technology.  Most organizations have focused their physician shortage efforts on developing a greater reliance on non-physicians.  Nurse practitioners, physician assistants and locum tenens are all being used in greater numbers to fill workforce vacancies. Additionally, technologic innovations can also serve to increase access to care and increase the efficiency of monitoring and managing a chronic condition. Mobile health technology and the utilization of biometric sensors are increasingly more popular among individuals who are interested in being more involved in their healthcare.

Jackson Physician Search can help your organization address both short- and long-term physician shortage strategies.  Our recruitment professionals have decades of industry experience, and our thought leadership can provide you with proven strategies to improve your physician recruitment and retention programs.  Contact us today to learn more.

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