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March 22, 2017
June 30, 2022

As a result of health care reforms and systemic changes within the health care sector, the physician shortage has become a crisis. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that there will be a shortage of 14,900 to 35,600 primary care physicians and 37,400 to 60,300 specialty physicians by 2025. However, many of the issues that are fueling this shortage, including rising number of retirements, professional burnout and increasing administrative requirements are being exacerbated by a new issue, President Donald Trump's travel ban.

With almost a quarter of physicians in the U.S. foreign born, the travel ban not only prevents qualified medical professionals from entering the U.S., it has also had a chilling effect on medical school student applications from predominantly Muslim countries. Many of the physicians and students from these nations are concerned that Trump may force them to leave, which has encouraged them to seek career opportunities in other nations.

Trump's travel ban could reduce the number of doctors by thousands at a critical time. There are currently 8,400 doctors practicing in the U.S. from Syria and Iran, two nations targeted in Trump's ban, as well as tens of thousands from India and Pakistan, which are not included in the ban. The President's order has many physicians working here rethinking their decision, and planning for relocation to more immigrant-friendly nations like the U.K. or Canada.

This crisis has placed additional stress on the other major solution for physician shortages, locum tenens staffing.  Staffing firms have become an increasingly popular remedy for physician vacancies.  In 2012, almost 74 percent of healthcare managers used locum tenens replacements, but by 2016, this has grown to 94 percent.

Not only has the frequency of locum tenens usage risen, but also the length of employment. In 2016, there was a 12.6 percent likelihood that a hospital employed a locum tenens all 31 days of a month, while that was only 7.3 percent in 2012.

It is estimated that the physician staffing industry saw revenue growth of 13 percent in 2017.  This is expected to slow to 6 percent in 2017, expanding the market to $15.5 billion. While this figure may suggest that the industry has faltered in its growth curve, there are many factors involved. A shrinking recruitment pool is a challenge for staffing firms, as is the transition to a value-based provider system that shrinks the number of patient interactions. 

Another major factor in diminishing need for physicians is the gradual decline in the number of newly insured. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of newly insured peaked in 2014, with 9.66 million but this dropped to 7.92 million in 2015.  With a potential repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act in the works by the Trump administration, it is difficult to determine the short term growth rate of the physician staffing industry.  However, with a rapidly aging American population and a continuing bottleneck in the number of medical school graduates, the staffing industry has a bright future.  


Article Written By:

Robert Moghim, M.D. - CEO, Health Carousel Locum Tenens