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Have you ever been referred to a medical specialist, only to be told the soonest available appointment is three months from now? There are many things that could factor into the long wait period, but one is the shortage of physicians trained as medical specialists.  

According to projections from the Association of American Medical Colleges, we can expect a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032. This number includes both primary care physicians and specialists, but medical specialties are slated to take a significantly harder hit. Psychiatry, OB/GYN, radiology, neurology and gastroenterology are among the top specialties where we’re already seeing an increased demand in healthcare organizations seeking to fill specialist roles. 

Increasing the number of physician assistants can help mitigate the effects of physician shortage (which is why that occupation can expect to grow 31 percent from 2018 to 2028), but specialized physicians are still needed. 

What Areas Will Be Impacted Most?

Communities across the country will be able to tangibly feel the shortage of specialized physicians, but it will hit some areas harder than others.

Rural areas will struggle with a lack of available specialists because one doctor will have to serve patients in a larger geographic area. Thus, it will likely require more travel time for patients to reach a doctor who offers specialized treatment, and the commute isn’t feasible for everyone.

The effects will also be felt strongly in historically under-served communities, such as areas where many residents don’t have adequate health insurance due to economic hardships. In fact, if health care use patterns were equalized across all areas and communities today, the U.S. would need an additional 95,900 doctors to meet the increased demand.

What Can We Do?

Primary care physicians will always be necessary and strongly demanded, but specialists are becoming more useful as our country’s aging population is becoming sicker and in need of more specialized care for serious conditions. The healthcare industry is well aware of the problems that can arise with a shortage of qualified professionals, and steps are being taken to plan accordingly.

For example, the number of recruiting assignments for medical specialists has increased in the last 4 years. 

Future shortages can also be addressed by piquing interest in our country’s future doctors before they begin their college career. Training to be a medical specialist takes time and hard work, but many students find their passion in this field. And it can be an extra incentive to know that there will be strong demand for the profession in the coming decades. 

Our country’s shortage of physicians is a complex problem, so the answer doesn’t lie in simple solutions. However, starting to think about the future now can keep our industry running smoothly as the years go on.