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Medical Specialties Losing the Most Providers

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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, examined claims data submitted in Q4 2021 to quantify how many clinicians who submit claims are exiting the healthcare workforce. According to their analysis, 230,609 healthcare professionals have left clinical practice. Here is what they found in terms of exits by type of health professional:

  • physicians: 117,000 exits
  • nurse practitioners: 53,265 exits
  • physician assistants: 22,704 exits
  • physical therapists: 22,032 exits
  • licensed clinical social workers: 15,578 exits
Team of nurses and doctors
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Medical specialties that have lost the most providers

These nine specialties, combined, saw the loss of 86,791 clinicians, according to the analysis.

SpecialtyEstimated Professionals Who Exited in 2021
Internal medicine15,000
Family practice13,015
Clinical psychologist10,874
Chiropractic10,662
Psychiatry8,629
Optometry8,292
Anesthesiology7,459
Pediatric medicine7,330
Emergency medicine5,530

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 
Chiropractic61
Nurse/nurse practitioner57
Surgery55
Internal medicine53
Anesthesiology53
Psychiatry52
Physician assistant52
Family practice52
Pediatric medicine51
Emergency medicine50

View the full report from Definitive Healthcare here.

PCPs, pediatrics and emergency medicine appear on both lists: those with the most professionals leaving the workforce and those with the highest average age. These groups likely top the list of specialties with anticipated shortage problems.

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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