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Medical Specialties Losing the Most Providers

A recent analysis examined the total number of claims submitted by medical specialty, and estimated the types of clinicians who appear to be exiting the workforce.

Staffing shortages have become an enormous problem for the US healthcare system in the wake of the pandemic. A poll conducted in 2021 estimated 18% of US healthcare workers quit their jobs since the onset of COVID-19.

Definitive Healthcare, a commercial intelligence firm, compared claims data submitted in July and August of 2021 and 2022 to quantify how many clinicians who submit claims are exiting the healthcare workforce. This study accounted for large numbers of clinicians who quit their positions in 2021 but have since returned to work.

According to their analysis, 145,213 healthcare professionals have left clinical practice. Here is what they found in terms of exits by type of health professional:

  • physicians: 71,309 exits
  • nurse practitioners: 34,834 exits
  • physician assistants: 13,714 exits
  • physical therapists: 15,332 exits
  • licensed clinical social workers: 10,024 exits
Team of nurses and doctors
Getty

Medical specialties that have lost the most providers

These 10 specialties, combined, saw the loss of 46,000 clinicians, according to the analysis.

SpecialtyEstimated Professionals Who Exited Since 2021
Internal medicine8,718
Family practice7,842
Clinical psychologist5,985
Psychiatry5,059
Pediatric medicine4,142
Optometry3,508
Emergency medicine3,207
Anesthesiology2,872
Ob/gyn 2,536
General surgery2,134

Medical specialties ranked by highest average physician age

Definitive Healthcare also estimated the average age of healthcare professionals by role and specialty. These specialties are likely to experience the largest wave of retirements in the years ahead, exacerbating the shortage.

SpecialtyAverage age 
Adult medicine59
General practice59
Psychology58
Adolescent medicine58
Addiction medicine57
Occupational medicine57
Preventive medicine57
Urology56
Otolaryngology56
Cardiology55

View the full report from Definitive Healthcare here.

Internal medicine and family medicine medicine appear on both lists: those with the most professionals leaving the workforce and those with the highest average age. This means the squeeze on access to primary care professionals will continue.

Addressing the shortage

There is a complex array of issues driving the exits of healthcare professionals and it will take a multi-pronged approach to find solutions. Experts cite investing in telehealth, confronting burnout and addressing graduate medical education opportunities among key initiatives to address the shortage. All these efforts will take time.

One thing is clear: the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

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