Add cardiologists to the list of doctors in short supply

As the baby boomer generation ages, the country will see a shortage of cardiologists, according to a new report.

The report (PDF) by PYA, a healthcare consulting company, projects the shortage within the next 10 years, particularly in rural areas. It joins a long list of other predicted shortages, including of primary care doctors, obstetrician/gynecologists and psychiatrists.

“Older and fewer physicians specializing in cardiology, coupled with the aging of baby boomers and gravitation toward practice in urban areas, will continue to exacerbate shortages in physician services in the specialty of cardiology, especially in rural areas, over the next decade,” Lyle Oelrich, a principal in the company, said in an announcement.

The projected shortage comes as the country grapples with an increase in obesity and other risk factors that increase the demand for cardiac care. Half of the American population has at least one risk factor for heart disease.
What's contributing to the shortage? The report pointed to fewer medical graduates choosing the specialty, with those who do so choosing to practice in urban areas and in hospital and health systems. While the number of overall physicians increased 7.7% from 2010 to 2015, the number of cardiologists increased by only 1.1%. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges said that nearly 60% of all cardiologists are 55 and over. In all, the country could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030, AAMC projects.

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Of course, many different specialties are facing similar challenges including orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, rheumatologists, pulmonologists, vascular surgeons and many others, as doctors age out of the workforce, according to the paper. Physician shortages are also projected in specialties that focus on aging bones, hearts, lungs and psyches of older patients, a study by Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm, found.

Some good news for specialists: The shortage will also drive up salaries for cardiologists, the report found.

Already, salaries rose for cardiologists between 2013 and 2017, the report said. Total compensation for both noninvasive and invasive/interventional cardiology grew at a compound annual growth rate of 3% and 2%. The median compensation, including salary and bonuses, for noninvasive cardiologists went from $420,906 in 2013 to $467,941 in 2017. Interventional cardiologists also earned on average approximately 30% more than noninvasive cardiologists. Their median compensation went from $546,806 to $595.157 over the same period.

While compensation increased, physician productivity measured in terms of professional collections stayed flat over the last five years, the report said.