A growing and aging U.S. population will face a physician shortage of more
than 124,000 within 17 years, according to a report by the Association of
American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
The report, released last November, concluded that the number of physicians
would increase "modestly" through 2025. The report found that
demand for care would grow sharpest among medical specialties, although the
category into which the authors placed psychiatry—"other patient
care"—was expected to grow the
The conclusions were based in part on Census Bureau projections that the
U.S. population will increase by 50 million by 2025, while the number of
physicians is expected to increase by only 54,000. The shortage identified by
the report is expected to be exacerbated by increased future demand for
physician care and the aging of the U.S. population and of the physician
The findings follow a recommendation by the AAMC in June 2006 for funding
of a 30 percent increase in U.S. medical school enrollment and an expansion of
graduate medical education slots to accommodate such growth. Those
recommendations were based on previous studies that indicated an impending
shortage of physicians.
"A shortage of U.S. doctors would have a profound impact on all
Americans by affecting access to quality health care, especially for the
underserved who already encounter substantial barriers when seeking
care," said Jordan Cohen, M.D., former AAMC president, in a written
The projected shortage could rise from 124,400 to 159,300 if other possible
events occurred, such as enactment of some form of universal U.S. health
The report authors noted that the projected increases in the number of U.S.
physicians stemmed from the effort of medical schools to increase enrollment,
but they concluded that such increases will be insufficient to meet demand. In
addition to expanded efforts to increase the supply of physicians, the AAMC
report said that health system changes will be needed, including improved
health care efficiency and more efficient use of physicians.
Among the steps that could help alleviate the shortage are "modest
increase[s] in physician productivity," which are difficult to achieve
due to health care's complexity. Another way to reduce physician demand is to
increase the role of physician assistants and nurse practitioners, according
to the report authors.