Forum Session

The Sticky Wicket of Projecting Physician Workforce Needs
March 4, 2016


Sally Coberly, PhD & William J. Scanlon, PhD, Senior Consultant


Medicare funding of graduate medical education (GME)—$9.7 billion in 2012—plays an essential role in preparing the physicians required to meet future workforce needs. Ideally, accurate projections of the numbers and types of physicians needed in the future would guide GME policymaking. But projecting workforce needs is notoriously difficult, and prior projections have been off by wide margins in both directions. Insurance expansions, aging of the U.S. population, rapidly changing payment models, and market-by-market variation in how care is organized and delivered add to the uncertainly. For example, will practices and systems continue to redefine physicians' roles and make greater use of non-physician clinicians? Will the supply of appropriately trained non-physician clinicians be sufficient to assume a wider range of responsibilities that are currently performed primarily by physicians? Will advances in technology enhance clinicians' productivity, or in some instances allow some services to be delivered without hands-on clinician involvement? Will patients be able to engage in more self-care with expanded technology capabilities?

Improving the accuracy of future physician workforce needs remains an important task for the present because the training of physicians is time-intensive, and today's policy decisions can significantly affect future clinician supply. This Forum session focused on recent projections of physician workforce needs as well as efforts to incorporate some of the delivery systems changes currently under way into those projections. Speakers discussed factors affecting the workforce decision of care organizations in two markets, and explored the implications of workforce projections for GME policy.


Erin Fraher, PhD (bio)
Program on Health Workforce Research and Policy
Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Steven Green, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group (San Diego, CA)

Kathy Kerscher (bio)
Team Leader of Primary Care Operations
Bellin Health (Green Bay, WI)

Ed Salsberg, MPA (bio)
Director, Health Workforce Studies
Health Workforce Institute
George Washington University

Related Materials

For more information, see the Forum's issue brief entitles, "Challenges of Forecasting Physician Workforce Needs Amid Delivery System Transformation" (Issue Brief No. 855, September 29, 2015).

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