Addressing the Physician Shortage
The AAMC predicts a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034 in both primary and specialty care.
What Is Driving the Physician Shortage?
- Demographics: Specifically, population growth and aging continue to be the primary driver of increasing demand for physician services. By 2034, the number of Americans over age 65 will grow by 42.4%. Seniors also have a much higher per capita consumption of health care.
- Medical Advances: We have made tremendous strides in quality of care and treatment, which has increased the number of people living with multiple chronic illnesses.
- Physician Retirement: More than 2 out of every 5 doctors are over age 65 and likely to retire in the next decade. Their retirement decisions will dramatically affect the magnitude of national workforce shortages.
- A Cap of Medicare-Supported GME: Though demand for physicians is increasing, supply is not increasing at the same pace because of the artificial cap Congress has imposed on Medicare GME support since 1997.
To help meet the needs of patients and communities across the country, we must train more physicians, and we must increase physician training now. Robust, meaningful investment in physician training is sorely needed to strengthen and diversify the physician workforce to meet the needs of a growing, aging population.
Federal Support for Residency Training
Graduate medical education (GME) is the supervised hands-on training after medical school that all physicians must complete to be licensed and to practice independently. Training typically lasts three to five years for specialty training and can last up to 11 years for subspecialty training.
Training is primarily coordinated and funded by teaching hospitals and medical schools, with hands-on clinical experiences taking place in various care settings, including inpatient, outpatient, and in the community. Medicare plays a crucial role in contributing a portion of funding to teaching hospitals to fund GME positions, but Medicare support has been effectively frozen since 1997 — except for two historic occasions in 2021 and 2023 in which Congress provided 1,200 new positions. Increasing federal funding and Medicare support for GME will help:
- Increase the number of physicians and alleviate the physician shortage.
- Strengthen and diversify the U.S. health care workforce.
- Improve access to care for patients and rural/other medically underserved communities.