A recent study from the RAND Corporation, one of the country’s most trusted analytic organizations, finds a current shortage of 3,800 anesthesiologists and 1,282 nurse anesthetists. However, if current trends continue, a dramatic shortage of anesthesiologists and a significant surplus of nurse anesthetists are projected by 2020.
In its baseline projection, assuming demand for services grow at the rate of 1.6 percent annually for both anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists, the RAND study projects a shortage of close to 4,500 anesthesiologists and a surplus of close to 8,000 nurse anesthetists by 2020. However, if the growth in demand is assumed to be 3 percent to account for the aging population, the RAND study projects a shortage of physician anesthesiologists as high as 12,500 by the end of the decade. In this likely scenario, the surplus of nurse anesthetists by 2020 could be as high as 15,000.
“The projected shortage of anesthesiologists suggests that this country will soon face a gap in anesthesiology services that is just as important to Americans’ health as the projected physician gap for primary care services,” said Mark A. Warner, M.D., President-Elect of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. “Health care facilities have indicated that as a growing proportion of their patients become older and sicker, they will need more anesthesiologists providing the full scope of care that patients will need before, during and after their surgeries.”
The RAND study also found that anesthesiologists’ total work hours are 50 percent more than nurse anesthetists, and these anesthesiologists provide more services to the nation’s critically ill patients and those with acute and chronic pain. Anesthesiologists are physicians who oversee the broad range of anesthesiology practices in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers. Anesthesiologists have years of rigorous training and experience through medical school, internships, residencies and fellowships, and they provide critical knowledge and expertise needed to keep total watch over patients’ vital health and intervene when necessary in their most critical hours.
“We’re particularly pleased that this study comes from the Rand Corporation,” commented Dr. Warner. “The study was not funded by any anesthesia organization, further increasing the integrity of the Rand Corporation’s findings and the study’s validity. These findings may drive expanded opportunities for young physicians. We will need to train more physicians in anesthesiology to ensure that they are available to provide the complex care needed by the nation’s growing elderly and critically ill patients.”