Beyond Primary Care: Which Specialties Are Needed in Growing Physician Shortage

MED STUDENTS & DOCTOR SHORTAGE: We list the top in-demand specialties. Photo: Pinterest.com
MED STUDENTS & DOCTOR SHORTAGE: We list the top in-demand specialties. Photo: Pinterest.com

The upcoming physician shortage is not strictly limited to Primary Care, medical experts say. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported this winter that there are other in-demand specialties. In addition, Merritt Hawkins and Associates, a national physician search and consulting firm, released a report last year listing numerous specialties in medicine, from psychiatry to neurology, in need of new doctors because established physicians in many fields are nearing retirement age.

The UMHS Endeavour examines the various specialties needed in the coming years, so students at American and international medical schools understand where they might be able to fill in the gaps as they enter clinical rotations and start thinking about where to apply for residencies.

AAMC has estimated that by 2020, the USA will have a shortage of “45,000 Primary Care physicians and 46,100 surgeons and medical specialists,” due to an aging physician workforce, 15 million people eligible for Medicare and 32 million newly insured patients through the Affordable Care Act (https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/reporter/february2014/370350/physician-shortage.html)

Specialties with Current or Impending Shortages

The AAMC has been critical of a New York Times opinion piece that claimed new technology will reduce the need for more doctors. AAMC Chief Public Policy Officer Atul Grover, M.D., Ph.D. says in the AAMC Reporter that the New York Times article was “overly simplistic” and only focused on Primary Care.

Here, we examine some of the specialties with looming gaps, based on a report from Merritt Hawkins and Associates. Family Medicine and general Internal medicine topped the list of shortages. According to an article in Healthecareers.com, the firm “examined 3,097 permanent physician and advanced practitioner search assignments between April 2012 and March 2013,” with family medicine and general internal medicine topping the list of most-recruited medical specialties (https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/reporter/february2014/370350/physician-shortage.html).

Below are the specialties that will continue to be “in demand” today and in the near future.

HOSPITAL MEDICINE: Specialists treat patients in hospitals. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
HOSPITAL MEDICINE: Specialists treat patients in hospitals. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hospital Medicine: Hospital Medicine doctors often complete residencies in Internal Medicine and focus on the care and treatment of hospitalized patients. For more information, visit the Society of Hospital Medicine at www.hospitalmedicine.org/)

PSYCHIATRY: In 2011, 16 psychiatry residency programs didn't fill open spots. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
PSYCHIATRY: In 2011, 16 psychiatry residency programs didn’t fill open spots. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Psychiatry: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in January 2014 about the growing shortage of psychiatrists. Why the shortage? “More than half of psychiatrists are older than 55, unlike other higher-paying specialties like cardiology or orthopedics,” the newspaper says.” In 2011, there were 16 psychiatry residency programs in the U.S. that did not fill their open spots, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.” (http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/health/shortage-of-psychiatrists-funding-issues-create-crisis-in-mental-health/article_86b90070-b5d4-5d71-8059-b783d6f60511.html)

EMERGENCY MEDICINE: Specialists in this area are needed in the US & Canada. Many pursue fellowships in such subspecialties as disaster medicine. Photo: Pinterest.com
EMERGENCY MEDICINE: Specialists in this area are needed in the US & Canada. Many pursue fellowships in such subspecialties as disaster medicine. Photo: Pinterest.com


Emergency Medicine:
Emergency Medicine specialists are needed to care for both adult and pediatric patients with acute illnesses or injuries requiring immediate medical attention. They are needed to practice in hospital ERs and ICUs. In the USA and Canada, Emergency Medicine doctors can enter fellowships for such subspecialties as palliative medicine, critical-care medicine, disaster medicine, undersea and hyperbaric medicine, and more. For more information, visit the American Academy of Emergency Medicine website at http://www.aaem.org/

PEDIATRICIAN: Doctors are needed to treat children nationwide. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
PEDIATRICIAN: Doctors are needed to treat children nationwide. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pediatrics: In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued the following statement in Pediatrics, the organization’s official journal, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concludes that there is currently a shortage of pediatric medical subspecialists in many fields, as well as a shortage of pediatric surgical specialists. In addition, the AAP believes that the current distribution of Primary Care pediatricians is inadequate to meet the needs of children living in rural and other underserved areas, and more primary care pediatricians will be needed in the future because of the increasing number of children who have significant chronic health problems, changes in physician work hours, and implementation of current health reform efforts that seek to improve access to comprehensive patient- and family-centered care for all children in a medical home” (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/07/23/peds.2013-1517.abstract).

OB-GYN: Thousands of ob-gyn specialists are needed in the next 20 years. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
OB-GYN: Thousands of ob-gyn specialists are needed in the next 20 years. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Obstetrics and Gynecology: Midwifery used to be common, but seems archaic now. Or is it? Based on data from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American women may have to resort to using midwives if more graduates from American and foreign medical schools don’t decide to specialize as ob-gyns. Livescience.com published an article, “Ob-gyn Shortage is Going to Get Worse” by Dr. Richard E. Anderson in 2013. Dr. Anderson wrote that ACOG “projects a shortfall of between 9,000 and 14,000 obstetrician-gynecologists (ob-gyns) in the next 20 years, and an ACOG survey found that 1 in 7 ob-gyns has stopped delivering babies” (http://www.livescience.com/37824-obgyn-shortage-looming.html).

GENERAL SURGERY: There is a growing need for doctors with this specialty, but be prepared to work an average of nearly 60 hours per week. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
GENERAL SURGERY: There is a growing need for doctors with this specialty, but be prepared to work an average of nearly 60 hours per week. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

General Surgery: There is a growing need for doctors specializing in General Surgery. What makes General Surgery unique is “having a central core of knowledge common to all surgical specialties–anatomy, physiology, metabolism, immunology, nutrition, pathology, wound healing, shock and resuscitation, intensive care, and neoplasia,” the AAMC website says. General Surgery doctors do surgery on “the abdomen, breasts, peripheral vasculature, skin, and neck,” but “rarely perform neurologic, orthopedic, thoracic, or urologic procedures.” However, AAMC says, people in this specialty, “should be familiar with other surgical specialties to know when to refer a patient to another specialist.” If you choose this discipline, you’ll have your work cut out for you: The average work week is 59.4 hours.

NEUROLOGY: The shortage for neurologists will peak in just 11 years. Photo: Pinterest.com
NEUROLOGY: The shortage for neurologists will peak in just 11 years. Photo: Pinterest.com

Neurology: A study published in Neurology, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Neurology last year predicted a shortage in neurologists by 2025, just 11 years from now. “Demand for neurologists is projected to increase from 18,180 in 2012 (11% shortfall) to 21,440 by 2025 (19% shortfall). This includes an increased demand of 520 full-time equivalent neurologists starting in 2014 from expanded medical insurance coverage associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” the study’s authors wrote. This means that people with brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS) face longer wait times, and this is particularly alarming since one in six Americans are currently affected by a neurological disorder (http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2013/04/17/WNL.0b013e318294b1cf.abstract).


Other Specialties with High Hiring Demand (According to Merritt Hawkins)

• Orthopedic surgery
• Hematology and/or oncology
• Otolaryngology
• Cardiology
• Gastroenterology
• Urology
• Pulmonology
• Dermatology
• Geriatrics


INFOGRAPHIC ON THE U.S. PHYSICIAN SHORTAGE

Surviving the Physician Shortage

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5 thoughts on “Beyond Primary Care: Which Specialties Are Needed in Growing Physician Shortage

  1. Well this was eye opening. I have a friend who is a neurologist that had brought this issue up the last time we saw each other. Hopefully this infographic is shared around more medical schools, because it looks like there are a lot of positions that need to be filled by competent individuals.

  2. Gosh, who’s funding this article? The insurance companies? The government? I’m sure both would love to see the current GLUT of physicians increase even more, so that they can pay them even less. There is no shortage. There are plenty of MDs, but not enough primary care docs who will work for FREE or low wages, like insurance companies and the government want. Is there a plastic surgeon shortage? Gosh no. Radiologists? ENT? Anesthesiology? Good gracious, no. I wonder why? Oh, because they get PAID more. Now why would all those dedicated medical students wanting to save the world want to go into a specialty based on money? Is it the $500,000 educational debt they have? What do YOU think, you IDIOT that wrote this article? What about all those ‘dedicated’ foreign medical students and docs coming over with NO debt because THEIR government paid for their education? Guess what, they ALSO go into high paying specialities. If it weren’t about the money, they would have STAYED in their countries! I pray the brain dead idiot that was manipulated into writing this article by some HMO comes to his senses.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Al. The article is based on a report by Merritt Hawkins (a physician recruitment firm) and information from the American Association of Medical Colleges. No one was “manipulated” or given financial kickbacks by an HMO or anyone else for writing the article.

  3. It does no seem like there will be shortage. Thousands and thousand of IMG apply each year for residency and keep trying years after years after they run out of hope or resources. The male ones become nyc cab driver and the females a homemaker. Staying in America without licence and without medical experience does not help them getting anywhere. And it has been made even more difficult by the programs by adding cut of for year of gradution 5 year or even less. I spent 12 years of life here and gave some money to dome universities for mph, which was 3 times more than the local and now realized it was a waste.

    1. Hello Bandor,
      I do subscribe to your comment. It is quite surprising that the cut off for the year of graduation was set to be 5 years or less. Now, it a crime to be experienced as doctors ! I believe it is just a direct way of saying, ” we don’t want you IMGs in USA”

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