October 24, 2012
First National Survey of Anesthesiologists Over 50 Identifies Factors That Could Influence Predicted Physician Shortage
A large, first-of-its-kind national survey of older anesthesiologists has gathered important data that could be used by physicians and their employers to prepare for an expected undersupply of anesthesiologists in the near future. The resulting study was published in the November issue of Anesthesiology.
Findings from the study include:
- Older anesthesiologists’ long workweeks (49.4 hours per week on average) are similar to other physicians, but substantially longer than other professionals, such as attorneys (44.9), engineers (43) and registered nurses (37.3).
- Older anesthesiologists devote 81 percent of their time on average to clinical care, particularly those specializing in critical care medicine or pain management.
- Anesthesiologists participated in clinical care well into their 60s; forecasts predict that 30 percent of anesthesiologists are expected to work past age 65, approximately 18 percent past 70 years, and perhaps 10 percent will likely work at age 80.
- Concurrently, it was found that as anesthesiologists age, time spent in clinical care decreased and the number of anesthesiologists working part-time increased, particularly for women. One-sixth of the survey population reported working in a self-defined part-time mode.
“Anesthesiology is among 21 medical specialties experiencing or expected to experience physician shortages in the near future,” said lead study author Fredrick K. Orkin, M.D., an adjunct professor at Yale University School of Medicine. “Workforce shortages reflect many trends, including an aging physician population, medical debt, static production of new physicians, reduced physician work hours, a growing and aging patient population with complex medical conditions, and expansion of and enhanced access to health care services.”
According to Dr. Orkin, identifying older anesthesiologists’ practice patterns and retirement plans is an important first step in dealing with the consequences of an undersupply of anesthesiologists.
“In designing interventions to retain practitioners in the workforce, initiatives may need to be age-specific or perhaps even subspecialist-specific,” said Dr. Orkin.
For example, pain management and critical care subspecialists leaving practice cited loss of clinical autonomy as a major influence, and most anesthesiologists leaving clinical practice in their 50s cited poor health.
“Our study lends further support for increased attention to potentially modifiable factors that could affect future workforce supply,” said Dr. Orkin. “Such factors might include workplace wellness programs and other initiatives that enhance professional satisfaction. Our study also highlights the under-recognized trend toward part-time work and how this trend could be managed to help retain larger numbers of older, but skilled, anesthesiologists in the clinical setting.”