What Recruiters Should Know About the Evolving Physician Workforce

Posted by Doximity TF Team


It's not surprising that hospitals and healthcare executives are more focused on recruitment and retention than ever before. After all, large portions of the healthcare workforce were forced to find new careers and employment during the pandemic. 

The good news is that nearly 50,000 new healthcare jobs have been added since January 2021. The bad news? The U.S. will need more than 500,000 jobs to get back to pre-pandemic levels (per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). While demand for physicians was increasing year-over-year for three years leading into 2020 (per Doximity) – and despite the increased demand for healthcare workers overall – the pipeline of doctors training for many of these roles has slowed to a trickle (per Stat).

Some of this is due to the physician workforce and how it’s evolving, so we thought we’d share a few of the things we learned about the changes based on data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Here are our top three:

    1. More women are becoming doctors
    2. More doctors are nearing retirement age
    3. Sports medicine is growing faster than any other specialty

Let’s start with some of the highlights. After all, September is Women in Medicine Month. 

The steady rise of women as a percentage of the physician workforce is a great story of growth. The number of female physicians in the workforce has grown from 28.3% in 2007 to 36.3% last year (per the AAMC’s Physician Specialty Data Reports). This rise in the number of female physicians is attributed to yet another steadily rising number: female medical students, which has increased to 50.5% of students enrolled. That means as they graduate the number of female physicians in the workforce is expected to rise even more! 

Per AAMC, women remain concentrated in family and pediatric specialties, with obstetrics and gynecology, child and adolescent psychiatry, pediatrics, and neonatal-perinatal medicine having the highest concentration of women physicians, while female doctors are barely visible in other specialties.

“We have a good deal more work to do in terms of gender equity,” says Michael Dill, the AAMC’s director of workforce studies. “If the majority of female physicians are still concentrated in a handful of specialties, then we haven’t gotten where we need to be.”

Promoting growth and development for female physicians and addressing the unique challenges female physicians confront over the course of their careers is a critical mission for the American College of Physicians, which published a position paper on achieving gender equity in physician compensation and career advancement. They also published a list of ten tips you can do to impact gender equality in medicine.

Next, there’s the age of the physician workforce. In 2007, nearly 38% of doctors were 55 years of age or older. By 2017, that percentage was just over 44%, and last year (the last recorded data), the percentage reached nearly 50%. That’s right, half of working doctors are at or near retirement age – a big factor in the ongoing physician shortage projections. And these aging doctors make up a significant portion of selected specialties:

    • Preventive medicine: 69.6%
    • Thoracic surgery: 60.1%
    • Orthopedic surgery: 57.1%
    • Urology: 50.5%
    • Pediatrics: 44.5%

Just like gender distribution, age distribution varies greatly across specialties. Several specialties with a high percentage of older doctors (like surgical specialties) also have the largest percentage of male doctors. Conversely, specialties with the lowest number of older doctors have the highest percentage of female physicians.

Finally, there are specialties with remarkable physician growth, like sports medicine, which grew 55% this year while orthopedic surgery (a separate specialty within sports medicine) increased by nearly 40%.

Here’s a breakdown of the percentage of change within key specialties:

    • Pediatric anesthesiology - up 52.88%
    • Critical care medicine - up 38.5%
    • Internal medicine - up 38.3%
    • Family medicine/General practice - up 5%
    • General surgery - no change
    • Anatomic/Clinical pathology - down 7.0%
    • Pulmonary disease - down 10.6%

One last thing to note: the medical specialties with the largest number of residents and fellows are primary care specialties family medicine/general practice and pediatrics. That’s good news considering they’re also the specialties predicted to have the largest physician shortages. Recruiting and retaining physicians in rural America also remains difficult. If you’re recruiting for rural positions and missed our recent webinar, you can check it out here: Rural recruiting, what’s changed and what hasn’t

When it comes to sourcing great physician candidates, there’s definitely an art to it. That’s why we invite you to join us on October 19, 2021, at 11 am PT/2 pm ET for a special Doximity User Training. This month's training will be led by two of our Client Success Managers who are well versed in the ways Doximity Talent Finder can be used to source the right candidates for your jobs.

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Topics: women in medicine, sports medicine, changing physician workforce, physicians nearing retirement

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