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Posted on
June 16, 2023

Recent Anesthesiologist Shortage: What You Should Know

The medical community is painfully aware that the physician shortage is worsening. However, a brewing crisis exists within the ongoing staffing shortages that even many medical professionals and administrators may not recognize. This crisis centers on the dwindling number of anesthesia providers that has been exacerbated by many internal industry factors like high retirement numbers as well as external circumstances, including a rapidly aging population and recent supply chain issues.

What You Should Know Regarding the Anesthesiologist Shortage

The growing shortage of anesthesia providers is a well-documented trend. An AAMC study, “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: projections from 2017-2032,” revealed a startling prediction. The health system expects a shortage of between 24,800 and 65,800 specialist providers in the United States by 2032. This is in addition to the current shortage of over 10,000 anesthesia providers.

IMPACT ON THE QUALITY OF CARE

The lack of physician anesthesia providers will likely impact this country's health care quality dramatically. Without qualified Anesthesiologists, many critical surgical procedures may be delayed or even performed under the supervision of CRNAs, rather than medical doctors. These bottlenecks in delivery could compromise the caliber of care many patients receive.

The demand for Anesthesiologists will only grow in the coming years as the U.S. population ages and more people obtain health coverage. The number of Americans aged 65 or older is expected to increase to 83.7 million by 2050, almost twice the number in 2012. This rapidly growing demographic should place additional strains on an already overburdened healthcare system that relies heavily on anesthesia providers.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

Anesthesia services are unique in several ways regarding the ongoing shortage. More Anesthesiologists aged 50 or older are likely to enter full retirement than other physician specialists. This is related to comparatively lower job satisfaction than their medical colleagues stemming from poor compensation and excessive on-call responsibilities.

The dual pressures of onerous professional responsibilities and inadequate compensation will not likely diminish soon. While the insured population continues to grow, major payers like Medicare continue to undercut private insurance reimbursement rates. On average, Medicare only pays 30 percent of what private payors provide.

The same AAMC study found that by 2032, approximately 40% of physicians will be over 65. By 2017, 56% of the then 32,000 certified physician anesthesia providers actively practicing were over age 55, and 80% were over 45. As the workforce ages, there simply aren’t enough new Anesthesiologists to replace them. The AAMC blames caps on Medicare funding for residency positions as a significant factor for the low number of new anesthesia providers. Additionally, any measures taken to increase enrollment in medical school or create more residency positions will take time to go into effect, given the 7-15 years it takes to become an anesthesia provider in America.

Another exacerbating factor is limited access to quality anesthesia care for patients due to a shortage of anesthetic drugs. Based on the American Society of Anesthesiologists studies, the drug shortage has been ongoing for at least a decade. However, supply chain issues and increased demand for anesthetic substances have made it even more difficult to supply anesthetists with needed supplies adequately. The ASA asserts that anesthesia providers have difficulty providing adequate patient care when they are not provided with needed anesthesia drugs.

Impact of Covid-19 on Anesthesiologist Shortage

The impact of Covid-19 on the Anesthesiologist shortage cannot be overstated. An existing shortage of providers was made worse by the burnout experienced during the pandemic, with many physician anesthesia providers opting to retire earlier than planned. Additionally, supply chain issues and medication shortages made it difficult for Anesthesiologists to do their job.

How to Combat Anesthesiologist Shortage

Locum tenens positions could be important in combatting the anesthesia provider shortage. With increased autonomy, higher pay, and flexible schedules, locum tenens Anesthesiologist roles could be attractive to physician anesthesia providers considering retiring. The ability to work fewer hours, travel, and make even more money may sway Anesthesiologists to continue their employment longer than they otherwise would have. Additionally, rural or underserved medical groups can utilize locum tenens Anesthesiologists to ensure their patients receive the best quality care. An increase in short-term contracts and traveling anesthesia provider roles can help healthcare centers that may not otherwise be able to hire a full-time anesthesia provider.

Is a Locum Tenens Anesthesiologist Job Right for Me?

If you're considering anesthesiologist locum tenens work, there are some key considerations to make before you make the career change. Locum tenens work is a popular option for healthcare professionals (from nurse practitioners to emergency medicine specialists) because it's flexible, high paying, and allows you to experience different work environments without a long-term commitment.

However, locum tenens work might not be the ideal fit for everyone. Here are some factors to consider when deciding if this career path is right for you:

  • Personal and Professional Goals - Consider your short and long-term goals. Do you want to maximize your earnings, or do you want a stable work-life balance? Locum tenens work usually offers higher earning potential than permanent positions, so keep this in mind. However, if you want to stay in the same location and form familiar patient relationships, you might prefer a permanent position.
  • Travel - Another important factor to consider is the travel you are willing to do. Locum tenens work requires healthcare professionals to travel frequently, meaning you might need to be away from home for long periods. This type of work could be challenging if you have other commitments, like family or a second job.
  • Nature of Work - The nature of locum tenens work itself is another important consideration. It is temporary work by definition, and you may be working with new colleagues and patients almost every time you take up an assignment. As such, adaptability and flexibility are essential for those doing locum tenens work. If you are comfortable working in a changing environment and enjoy meeting new people, and prefer working in different settings, you may enjoy the variety of locations and the social aspects of locum tenens work.
  • Experience - Another essential aspect to consider when considering locum tenens is your experience level. Most positions require professionals to have a few years of experience. If you are newly qualified, it might be best to gain more experience before working as a locum. This will allow you to sharpen your skills, which will be valuable in a locum tenens position.
  • Job Market - Research the job market for locum tenens opportunities. If you have particular areas in mind where you want to work, check for locum jobs. If you don't like what's out there, you can always wait a few months and then begin your search again.

With these considerations in mind, you can make the right decision for yourself as an individual and as a healthcare provider.

Anesthesiology job opportunities

Reach out to Caliber when you are looking for your next career opportunity or help to fill the late-career gap. We specialize in locum tenens positions for CRNAs and Anesthesiologist Providers.

We stay current with industry trends, offer locum tenens tips, and find up-to-date locum tenens job opportunities in the areas we serve. When you work with Caliber, one of our dedicated consultants will help you land the perfect opportunity in the clinical setting of your choice.

FAQS:

Is there a shortage of Anesthesiologists?

The growing shortage of anesthesia providers is a well-documented trend. An AAMC study, “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: projections from 2017-2032,” revealed a startling prediction. The industry expects a shortage of between 24,800 and 65,800 specialist providers by 2032. This is in addition to the current shortage of over 10,000 anesthesia providers.

Why are there so few Anesthesiologists?

The anesthesia specialty is unique in several ways regarding the ongoing shortage. More Anesthesiologists aged 50 or older are likely to enter full retirement than other physician specialists. This is related to comparatively lower job satisfaction than their medical colleagues stemming from poor compensation and excessive on-call responsibilities.

What is the average Anesthesiologist's salary?

The average Anesthesiologist's salary can vary greatly by state and by the health care organization they work with.

What is the future for anesthesiologists?

An AAMC study found that by 2032, approximately 40% of physicians will be over 65. By 2017, 56% of the then 32,000 certified physician anesthesia providers actively practicing were over age 55, and 80% were over 45. As the workforce ages, new Anesthesiologists aren’t enough to replace them.

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