The United States has nearly 40,000 clinically active emergency physicians, but these numbers are not adequate to treat the growing number of people who visit emergency departments each year. New emergency physicians are not being trained fast enough, and shortages are expected to continue for several decades, particularly in rural areas and the central part of the country. The workforce study results are being published online today in the Annals of Emergency Medicine (“National Study of the Emergency Physician Workforce, 2008″).
“The U.S. population is aging and moving into retirement, and that includes emergency physicians,” said lead author Adit Ginde, MD, MPH, of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. “While U.S. medical schools graduate approximately 1,400 new emergency physicians every year, the shortage of emergency medicine trained and emergency medicine board certified physicians will continue for decades. As older emergency physicians retire or die, the pronounced shortage in rural areas may even worsen. Seniors are living longer with conditions that often require emergency care, and they need emergency physicians to treat them.”
The research team from University of Colorado Denver and the Emergency Medicine Network at Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed the 2008 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile, which contains data on all 940,000 U.S. physicians. Of the 39,061 clinically active emergency physicians in the United States, 57 percent were board certified in emergency medicine; this percentage climbed to 69 percent when all emergency medicine trained physicians were added. Nearly all (98 percent) of emergency physicians who graduated within the last five years were emergency medicine trained or emergency medicine board certified compared to only 44 percent who graduated 20 years ago or more.
“Although an increasing number of emergency physicians are now emergency medicine trained or board certified in emergency medicine, 31 percent of practicing emergency physicians were neither,” said Dr. Ginde. “It is difficult to satisfy completely the current demand for emergency physicians with emergency medicine board certified physicians, especially in rural areas. We need to improve access to high quality emergency care for all Americans.”
Of emergency physicians who graduated 20 years ago or more, 15 percent are practicing in a rural area. By contrast, of emergency physicians who graduated within the past five years, only five percent are currently practicing in a rural area.
“The good news is that the increased public access to emergency medicine trained and emergency medicine board certified physicians demonstrates the growth of our specialty in a very short time, “said ACEP’s president, Dr. Nick Jouriles. “But the news on continued shortages of emergency medicine specialists is sobering, particularly in rural areas. The lack of access to emergency physicians in rural areas may increase in coming years. Emergency care is a national priority. We need to train more emergency medicine specialists. This is a critical as lawmakers and the nation take up health care reform.”
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