Shortage of US Cardiologists

The demand for cardiologists in the US far exceeds the supply, and this shortage will continue to get worse with time, according to a new report published online September 10, 2009 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. At present, there is shortage of more than 1600 general cardiologists and nearly 2000 interventional cardiologists, with electrophysiologists and pediatric cardiologists also in short supply.

More concerning, however, is that with an aging baby-boomer population, epidemics in obesity, and growing rates of the number of individuals with diabetes mellitus, as well as the fact that more patients with chronic heart disease are living longer, the number of practicing cardiologists will need to double by 2050 to keep up with the demand. If not, the US might find itself short approximately 16 000 cardiologists.

These are the conclusions of the American College of Cardiology Board of Trustees Workforce Task Force, which is headed up by Dr George Rodgers, a private-practice cardiologist in Austin, TX.

“The thought is that this is currently a problem, we have a huge gap,” said Rodgers during a briefing with the media. “Our guess is that the deficit in the number of cardiologists is probably going to widen, even double, by the time we get to 2030 or 2050.”

In their report, the task force noted that just 750 to 800 new cardiologists graduate from training programs each year. Rodgers pointed out that internal-medicine residents looking to do a cardiology fellowship don’t always get the chance to become cardiologists because there are approximately 1200 applicants for 800 cardiology fellowship positions. Many institutions say they lack the funding to take on any more cardiology fellows, noted Rodgers.

The task force suggests that the current shortage is partially brought on by significant shortages in the number of women and minorities in cardiology. While women equal men in medical school, just 12% of the current cardiology workforce is female. Also, while African Americans and Hispanics constitute 25% of the US population, they represent just 6% of cardiologists in active practice. In addition, in 2006-2007, black and Hispanic fellows represented just 13% of internal-medicine residents and 10% of cardiology fellows.

Currently, more than 43% of US cardiologists are older than 55 years, notes the task force, and there are concerns that these doctors might retire early, especially with the proposed cuts to cardiology payments in the Medicare physician fee schedule for 2010.

Source: American College of Cardiology, 09-11-2009

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