Clinician Shortages Will Be a Growing Problem in Healthcare

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

The start of a new year and a new decade is an appropriate time to assess the state of affairs in terms of U.S. healthcare and think about major trends that are changing our industry. Sometimes healthcare begins to change direction due to factors that are largely beyond anyones control, like the demographic shifts and increase in longevity that will impact every area of the care continuum.

Over the next decade, doctors and nurses will be in short supply.

The existing shortage of nurses and physicians will continue and become an even larger problem across many areas of healthcare. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032 as demand for physicians continues to grow faster than supply. The high end of the number of doctors we could lack includes more than 55,000 primary care physicians, nearly 66,000 specialists, and more than 23,000 surgical specialists. Two factors are contributing to this problem—the U.S. "population is estimated to grow by more than 10% by 2032, with those over age 65 increasing by 48%. Additionally, the aging population will similarly affect the physician supply, since one-third of all currently active doctors will be older than 65 at some time during the next decade. When these physicians decide to retire could have the greatest impact on supply" (AAMC, 2019). Rural and inner-city areas will feel the shortage most acutely, as those are places physicians are less likely to want to practice. It is probable that the industry will see states and hospitals going to great lengths to retain the doctors they have trained and hired. There are already examples of financial incentives, such as loan forgiveness and bonuses, being used in some areas to hold on to physicians.

The Situation for Nurses Mirrors That for Doctors

A similar problem looms within the nursing profession. By 2025, according to the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies, “states on the east and west coasts will likely have nursing shortages, while states in the middle of the country will have a surplus of nurses” (Becker’s, 2017). Retaining new nurses is going to become even more important; the turnover rate for new nurses is 25% to as high as 60% during the first year and replacement costs can run as high as $60,000 per nurse. Even if more of them choose to stay, a workforce with lots of novice nurses has its own challenges—treating high-acuity patients requires confidence that may be in short supply and practice errors are more common during a nurse’s first six months on the floor.

This blog post is an excerpt from the longer HealthStream article, Trends That Will Shape the Next Decade in Healthcare. Focused on the people providing healthcare, HealthStream is committed to helping customers address and solve big problems in our industry. From hospitals to long-term care and across the care continuum, there are challenges stemming from demographic changes, governmental mandates, and the need for higher care quality. Download the webinar, Ten Healthcare Trends for 2020, where Robin Rose, Vice President, Healthcare Resources Group, HealthStream discusses this information in detail. HealthStream is dedicated to improving patient outcomes through the development of healthcare organizations' greatest asset: their people. Learn more about our healthcare workforce development solutions.

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