Study: Cardiothoracic surgeons could be in short supply within 15 years

Just as today's adults reach the age when they're most likely to need cardiac surgery, the U.S. is likely to face a severe shortage of cardiothoracic surgeons, according to a new study. Health policy experts say this could lead to lower quality of care, not to mention delays, for people who need heart and lung procedures, according to researchers with the Center for Workforce Studies at the Association of American Medical Colleges.

By 2025, there could be a 46 percent increase in demand for cardiothoracic surgeons, but unfortunately, the number available should drop 21 percent or more during the same period. Demand for cardiothoracic surgery services is being driven by the number of consumers over age 65, which is expected to double over the next 20 years to 70 million.

Meanwhile, the number of graduating cardiothoracic surgeons graduating and beginning practice is stagnating. In fact, in 2007, 33 percent of thoracic surgery fellowship positions went unfilled, reported the researchers, whose study appears in the journal Circulation. They speculate that this could be due to a decrease in the volume of patients having heart bypass surgery, the most frequent operation done by cardiothoracic surgeons. The volume of heart bypass surgeries fell 28 percent between 1997 and 2004.

To learn about the looming shortage:
- read this U.S. News & World Report piece

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