The Aging Physician Workforce

A recent report by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) found that 27% of the current physician workforce is between the ages of 55 and 64. Additionally, physicians older than 65 years of age make up an additional 15% of the total workforce, meaning 42% of the entire physician workforce is 55 years old and older. The report states that over 40% of the physician workforce is at risk of retiring over the next decade.1I analyze the physician workforce daily for individual clients, and have often stated that it is difficult to find a medical staff with an average age of 50 years or younger, yet this report still left me stunned.

These new statistics present a bit of a challenge for health systems: how can they prepare for such a potential onslaught of retirements or slow-downs in workload? One of the areas that I typically address with clients is whether the medical community is replenishing itself. Is there a steady stream of new recruits coming into the community? The typical answer is that it depends on the specialty. That is, some specialties are doing a better job in recruitment than others; some specialties are prepared for physicians to slow down or retire.

Furthermore, in many specialties, along with age comes the ability to opt out of the call rotation, which can create a heavy burden on those who remain.So, what is a health system to do? Foremost, be proactive and don’t be surprised when physicians retire or slow down. Take a look at the ages of your physicians on a specialty-specific basis. When we do this for our clients, unfortunately, some are surprised at the analysis. This critical factor should not be a surprise. The health system needs to be aware and be engaged in conversation with physicians about their plans for retirement or moving to part-time status.Next, have a frank conversation rather than waiting for the physicians to come to you. In my experience, the days of knowing that retirement will happen 9 to 12 months in advance have likely passed.

Health systems should have a well-developed recruitment plan by specialty that takes into account potential attrition by retirement. This recruitment plan should be developed based on your physician needs assessment. With the recruitment plan, along with ongoing communication with the physicians, the system is preparing in advance and not reacting to an event that comes about on short notice. Your physician needs assessment process will provide invaluable information about your medical staff and medical community. This information should include age analysis, potential attrition analysis, and other qualitative data that will assist in this planning process.

Contact Coker Group today to see how we can assist you in your physician needs assessment.

  1. American Association of Medical Colleges (2019). New Findings Confirm Predictions on Physician Shortage. Available at Accessed 16 May 2019.

Related Insights