Data Show a Younger, Smaller Pool of Physicians

Article excerpt

More young physicians are entering the workforce than previously thought while fewer older physicians are remaining active, making the physician workforce younger on average, both now and in the future, a recent study of census data showed.

The workforce analysis, which challenges conclusions drawn from the American Medical Association (AMA) Physician Masterfile dataset that is commonly used to calculate physician workforce numbers, ultimately could indicate ways to make the Masterfile data more accurate, according to the study's lead author, Douglas O. Staiger, Ph.D., the John French Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

"Workforce projections rely on accurate estimates of the current number of physicians as a starting point," Dr. Staiger said in an interview. "Without more accurate estimates of the size and age distribution of the current workforce, projections of physician supply, requirements, and potential shortages may mislead policy makers as they try to anticipate and prepare for the health care needs of the population."

The study, by researchers at Dartmouth College, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, and the center for interdisciplinary health workforce studies at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., compared physician workforce estimates and supply projections using AMA Masterfile data with estimates and projections from the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey (CPS). They sought to determine the annual number of physicians working at least 20 hours per week in 10-year age categories. Recent workforce trends were used to project future physician supply by age, the authors said.

The analysis showed that in an average year, the census data estimated 67,000 (or 10%) fewer active physicians than did the AMAs Masterfile, almost entirely because the census data found fewer active physicians aged 55 years and older. …