A recent survey of older doctors (aged 55 and up) by the staffing experts at AMN Healthcare — the leader and innovator in healthcare workforce solutions and staffing services, and the parent company of Staff Care — has underscored the seriousness of the nation's ongoing doctor shortage.
"According to the American Medical Association’s Physician Master File, 42 percent of practicing physicians in the United States are 55 years old or older," write the authors of a report based on the survey. "This includes approximately 336,000 of some 800,000 physicians who currently are in active patient care."
Based on 2015 data, the new doctor survey reveals that more than 50 percent of physicians within some medical specialties — neurology, orthopedic surgery, cardiology, psychiatry, oncology and pulmonology — are 55 years of age, or older. A whopping 73 percent of pulmonologists fall within that older age group, the report points out.
Other important key findings from the doctor survey — all of which can be expected to directly impact healthcare employers within the next decade — include the sobering fact more physicians are currently planning to retire than are expected to enter the workforce, "creating a net decline in the number of physicians."
- 11% of older doctors in this age group are planning to retire within the coming year. This number — which the AMN doctor survey authors put at approximately 37,000 — is "significantly greater than the approximately 27,000 physicians who will complete their training and enter the workforce in the same time frame."
- 26% of doctors 55 or older (approximately 87,360) "plan to retire in the next one to three years," a number that's "greater than the approximately 81,000 physicians who will complete their training and enter the workforce" within the same period.
- Only 21% of physicians aged 55 or above have reported making plans to transfer patients to other doctors or groups after they retire. Just 23% — or less than one in every four older doctors — said that they're involved in a succession plan with their employer.
Download AMN's Survey of Older Doctors Here
Survey: Locum Staffing Remedy for Doctor Shortage
The authors point to locum tenens staffing and recruitment as the most obvious and, in all likelihood, the most effective short-term remedy for the doctor shortage revealed in such stark terms by this latest doctor survey.
Referring to Staff Care’s own 2015 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends, the authors note that "approximately 44,000 physicians now work locum tenens in the course of a year, a number that is likely to grow significantly as physicians age.
"Two-thirds (66%) of physicians who work locum tenens are 51 or older and 36% are 61 or older, according to Staff Care’s survey," they add. "Locum tenens provides many older physicians who might otherwise retire with a way to continue seeing patients.
"Locum tenens physicians therefore will represent an increasingly important segment of the physician workforce in an era of doctor shortages. The 2016 Survey of Physicians 55 and Older reveals the percentage of older physicians who are familiar with this practice option and the percentage who indicate they will choose to work locum tenens in the future."
Longer-term solutions are also needed, of course. While locum tenens staffing can certainly fill a great deal of the gaps being created by the ongoing doctor shortage, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has stated in a position paper that the best way to combat the crisis is to "increase the number of students from rural areas and other students committed to rural and family medicine that are enrolled in medical schools." (The doctor shortage is being felt nationwide, but is hitting rural areas particularly hard.)
Of course, as desirable as that long-term proposed solution to the nation's doctor shortage may be, it's of little comfort to healthcare employers in the short term. The healthcare industry is, then, in the difficult position of overhauling its framework of education and sourcing, and perhaps regional compensation rates, to fight the ongoing doctor shortage.
In the meantime, though, healthcare employers can turn to locum tenens staffing specialists like Staff Care to ensure that any potential gaps in coverage caused by retiring physicians, or other factors, are satisfactorily addressed.
If you'd like to discuss your locum tenens staffing needs with a Staff Care specialist, please contact us here. You can also submit a staffing request directly via this form.
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