Study: Primary care retirement trends unlikely to exacerbate doc shortage

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Primary care physicians tend to retire in their mid-60s, suggesting those retirements are unlikely to have a significant effect on overall physician retirement rates over the near term, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The age at which physicians in the baby boom generation decide to retire could have huge implications for the ongoing shortage of primary care doctors as well as a widening healthcare leadership gap, which spurred the study’s authors to get a better handle on the age at which physicians tend to retire and draw comparisons among specialties. After correcting data from the 2014 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile to account for its undercount of retirees compared to data from the National Plan and Provider Enumeration System, the authors demonstrated a mean retirement age of 64.9 years among primary care doctors, compared to a median of 65.1 years across all direct patient care specialties.

The difference between primary care physicians retiring at age 64 compared to age 66 yields a projected 16 percent larger shortage of doctors, according to the study’s authors. Their comparative findings showed little difference in retirement ages among sex, geography and over time, which “suggest that ongoing workforce composition shifts will not have a major impact on overall retirement rates in the near future.” In fact, the authors argue that external factors such as economic conditions or the combination of longer life expectancy and low retirement savings may offset factors that tend to push physicians toward retirement at an earlier age.

Nevertheless, the authors encourage policymakers to explore strategies to help physicians extend their careers. In particular, they suggest quality-of-life improvements such as reductions in requirements for full-time work, weekend hours, and on-call periods, many of which are also common reasons for physician burnout, as FiercePracticeManagment has previously reported.

- see the study