The aging baby boomer population, chronic disease and the Affordable Care Act are expected to drive demand for physicians and surgeons. At the same time, many physicians are expected to retire in the near future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for doctors should grow 24 percent between 2010 and 2020. Some medical specialties, however, probably will be more in demand than others.
Specialization and Demand
The minimum educational requirement of 11 years for college, medical school and residency means a considerable delay in identifying a need for more physicians and being able to fill that need. In urology, for example, 2,000 job opportunities were available to the 192 physicians who graduated in 2009, according to a March 2011 article in the “New England Journal of Medicine.” A trend toward subspecialization increases demand for generalists such as general surgeons or primary care physicians such as family practice doctors, internists and pediatricians.
The Bureau of Health Professions notes that demand will vary depending on specialty. According to its last report in 2008, pediatrics and its subspecialties will have considerable job growth. The pediatrician is the equivalent of a family practice physician but limits her practice to children. The BHPR expects a 23 percent growth rate in pediatrics from 2005 to 2020, 26 percent in pediatric cardiology and 36 percent in pediatric subspecialties. The growth rate in child psychiatry is expected to be 41 percent.
Family practice physicians are the cornerstone of primary care. They see patients of all ages for a variety of medical conditions and often provide care to the same patient for many years. The group is already in high demand, and nationwide physician recruiter Merritt Hawkins notes that it had 532 requests for family physicians in 2011, more than twice the number of requests for most other medical specialties. Reimbursement is one of the main issues why physicians choose specialties other than family practice, according to an August 2011 article in "Becker’s Hospital Review."
Other medical specialties expected to be in high demand, according to the BHPR, include anesthesiology, general internal medicine, occupational medicine, radiation oncology, emergency medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation. The anesthesiology growth rate should be 22 percent, general internal medicine growth rate 24 percent, and occupational medicine growth rate 25 percent. Demand for radiation oncologists is expected to grow 26 percent and for emergency physicians 32 percent. Physical medicine and rehabilitation should grow 39 percent.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- New England Journal of Medicine: Physician Shortages in the Specialties Taking a Toll
- Bureau of Health Professions: The Physician Workforce - Projections and Research into Current Issues Affecting Supply and Demand
- Merritt Hawkins: 2011 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives
- Becker’s Hospital Review: Physician Supply and Demand in the Next 10 Years
- Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images