Mass. Still Short in Key Medical Specialties; Physicians Hard to Recruit and Retain

The Massachusetts Medical Society today released its annual study of the state’s physician workforce – once again showing shortages in several specialties and continuing difficulty in recruitment and retention of physicians.

The 2012 Physician Workforce Study is the Society’s 11th annual comprehensive look at the physician workforce in Massachusetts.  The study also noted some positive trends: more physicians say they are willing to participate in new models of care such as accountable care organizations and global payments.

Additionally, slightly fewer physicians said they have altered or limited the scope of their practice for fear of being sued.

“This year’s study has mixed results,” said MMS President Richard Aghababian, M.D.  “We still have shortages of physicians in key specialties, especially primary care, and, despite some positive trends, physician recruitment is problematic, particularly for community hospitals.”

Key findings of the study included:

  • Seven of 18 specialties were found to be in critical or severe shortages: family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, neurosurgery, dermatology, psychiatry, and urology.
  • While 2012 marked the fifth consecutive year that saw a decrease in both the recruiting time to hire physicians and in the number of physicians reporting difficulty in retaining physician staff, recruitment remains difficult for those seven specialties, and in areas outside of Boston.  More than 94% of community hospitals report significant difficulty in filling vacancies, compared to 7.3% of teaching hospitals.
  • For the second year in a row, the percentage of physicians (40%) who say they are satisfied with the practice environment in Massachusetts equals the percentage (40%) who say they are dissatisfied.
  • Most physicians (78%) find their careers rewarding, but more than half (53%) are dissatisfied with the division between patient care and administrative tasks. This is especially pronounced among primary care physicians (family medicine, internal medicine); with 62% expressing dissatisfaction with the tradeoff between patient care and the administrative tasks they are required to perform.
  • 41% of physicians said they have altered or limited the scope of their practice because of the fear of being sued – but that is a decrease of 5% fewer than in each of the last three years.
  • For the second year, physicians were asked their opinions on the best option for the U.S. health care system. While 38% of physicians support a single-payer system, 62% prefer other options.

The complete report is available at

  –– Erica Noonan


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