Retirements by baby boomer doctors, nurses could strain overhaul

Since the passage of the US health care law in March, much has been said about the coming swarm of millions of retiring baby boomers (the 66 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964) and the strain they will put on the nation's health care system. That is only half the problem, says the Washington Post.

Overlooked in the conversation are doctors and nurses who are itching to call it quits. Health care economists and other experts say retirements in that group over the next 10 to 15 years will greatly weaken the health care workforce and leave many Americans who are newly insured under the new legislation without much hope of finding a doctor or nurse, says the Post.

For example:

Nearly 40 per cent of doctors are 55 or older, according to the Center for Workforce Studies of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Included in that group are doctors whose specialties will be the pillars of providing care in 2014, when the overhaul kicks in: family medicine and general practitioners (37 per cent); general surgeons (42 per cent); paediatrics (33 per cent), and internal medicine and paediatrics (35 per cent).

About a third of the much larger nursing workforce is 50 years old or older and about 55 per cent expressed an intention to retire in the next 10 years, according to a Nursing Management Aging Workforce Survey by the Bernard Hodes Group.

New registered nurses are flowing from colleges, but not enough to replace the number planning to leave the profession.


According to researchers, there will be at least 100,000 fewer doctors in the workplace than the 1.1 million the federal government projects will be needed in 2020 under the health care overhaul.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 75 per cent of nurses said in a survey they think the shortage "presents a major problem for the quality of their work life, the quality of patient care, and the amount of time that nurses can spend with patients."

In a survey by New York University's Christine Kovner, 13 per cent of newly registered nurses changed principal jobs after a year, and 37 per cent said they were ready to change jobs.

Source: Darryl Fears, Retirements by baby-boomer doctors, nurses could strain overhaul, Washington Post, June 14, 2010.

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First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, United States

FMF Policy Bulletin/ 22 June 2010

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