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8 Things to Know About the Cardiologist Shortage

Written By Christine Moore on June 21, 2023

An aging workforce and increased demand is putting pressure on the cardiology workforce.

  • A doctor visiting a patient in a hospital ward
    An Alarming Trend in the Face of Increased Demand
    The physician shortage in medicine affects patients and practitioners across primary care and specialties, and cardiology is not immune. In the face of growing demand for cardiovascular care, the number of practicing cardiologists (both general and in subspecialties) is not keeping pace. Between 1995 and 2007, the total number of physicians overall increased by 28.6%. However, that same period saw only a 19.2% increase in the number of cardiologists. Here are some of the top factors driving the shortage of available cardiologists, particularly for vulnerable populations.
  • unidentified woman checking blood pressure at home
    1. Nearly half of all American adults have a form of cardiovascular disease.
    Heart disease is one of the most prevalent conditions in the United States. It is the number one cause of death for men and women in the U.S., and across most ethnic groups. Millions of Americans have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including obesity, diabetes, and lack of physical activity. The good news: Treatment advances and risk reduction mean fewer Americans are dying prematurely from CVD. However, as more people live with chronic heart conditions, they will require more ongoing cardiac care, placing an increased demand on available cardiologists.
  • Senior couple smiling affectionately in kitchen
    2. Baby Boomers are reaching their highest-risk years for cardiovascular disease.
    The influx of Baby Boomers into their retirement years is a key factor in the overall physician shortage, with cardiology bearing a large brunt of the weight. A projected 60 million Boomers will be over age 65 by 2031, and up to 75% of them will have some type of cardiovascular disease. Even if cardiologist levels remain steady, they will likely not match the growing need for cardiac care among older patients.
  • Senior doctor smiling next to window
    3. Cardiologists themselves are also aging.
    More than 40% of active physicians in the U.S. will be age 65 or older in the next decade. On average, specialists are older than primary care physicians, meaning the imminent surge in doctor retirements could hit specialties like cardiology hardest. More than half of current cardiologists (non-invasive) are older than 55, and numbers of younger, early-career cardiologists may not be enough to offset the eventual retirement of older specialists.
  • Multi-ethnic group of students sit in university lecture hall
    4. Cuts to cardiology fellowships in the ’90s are still having an impact today.
    In the mid-1990s, health policy was focused on cutting costs for specialties, with a shift in emphasis to primary care. One analyst, Jonathan Weiner, even predicted that the growth of HMO care and staffing trends would result in a more than 60% oversupply of specialists by the year 2000. As a result, the number of first-year adult cardiology students was cut by 20% from 1994 to 1999. Now, as demand for cardiovascular care is far outpacing supply, cardiologists and patients alike are still feeling the impact of this reduction policy more than two decades later.
  • patient handing nurse health insurance card
    5. Increased consumer access to care is placing greater demand on cardiologists.
    The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 gave millions of Americans new access to healthcare coverage. This rise in the number of insured patients translated to added demand on an already stretched physician workforce. Within health systems, cardiovascular care, particularly prevention, has become a central tenet of community messaging, driving even more need for cardiology specialists.
  • Aerial of Small Town in Autumn
    6. Reduced cardiologist supply is hitting rural areas hardest.
    As more early-career cardiologists gravitate to highly populated cities to practice, vulnerable populations in rural communities face a disproportionate shortage of cardiology specialists. Statistics show that when grouped in quartiles, large areas of Midwest and Western states have as little as 25% of the number of cardiologists per 100,000 residents ages 65 and older compared to densely populated regions. Experts say incentives such as debt forgiveness for specialists who practice in underserved areas may be needed to meet the demand for care.
  • Young African American male doctor in hallway looking stressed or tired
    7. Burnout is a chronic factor in cardiology.
    Burnout continues to strain resources, energy and morale. However, cardiologists have reported high levels of burnout even prior to the pandemic. In a recent Medscape report, more than half of cardiologists said they were burned out, depressed, or both. Roughly two-thirds (67%) reported that burnout had at least a moderate effect on their lives, with 10% saying burnout is so severe they’re considering leaving medicine. Of the cardiologists who said they were burned out, 84% said their feelings started prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Group of doctors at hospital talking
    8. Trends in cardiology training may be contributing to the clinical shortage.
    A primary tactic in addressing the shortage of cardiologists is encouraging larger numbers of medical students to enter the field. However, training for cardiology is expensive and long—up to three or more years longer than for other med school graduates. In total, it can take up 15 years in post-high school education before a cardiologist begins his or her career. One incentive: Cardiologists are among the highest-paid specialists. In the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2021, cardiologists had an average annual salary of $459,000, up 5% from the previous year.
8 Things to Know About the Cardiologist Shortage
  1. Physician Supply Considerations: The Emerging Shortage of Medical Specialists. Merritt Hawkins. https://www.merritthawkins.com/uploadedFiles/mhawhitepaperspecialties2017.pdf
  2. Narang A, Sinha SS, Rajagopalan B, et al. The Supply and Demand of the Cardiovascular Workforce. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2016 Oct 11; 68(15): 1680–1689. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2016.06.070
  3. Cardiology’s Workforce Shortage. Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.cir.0000118641.54694.4c
  4. Baby Boomers, Heart Disease and the Cardiologist Shortage. Diagnostic and Interventional Cardiology. https://www.dicardiology.com/article/baby-boomers-heart-disease-and-cardiologist-shortage
  5. Medscape Cardiologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2023.
    https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2023-lifestyle-cardiologist-6016071#4
  6. Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2021: The Recovery Begins. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2021-compensation-overview-6013761#3
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