Estimate of current hospice and palliative medicine physician workforce shortage

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010 Dec;40(6):899-911. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2010.07.004.


Context: In the context of the establishment of a new medical specialty, rapid growth in hospices and palliative care programs, and many anecdotal reports about long delays in filling open positions for hospice and palliative medicine (HPM) physicians, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) appointed a Workforce Task Force in 2008 to assess whether a physician shortage existed and to develop an estimate of the optimal number of HPM physicians needed.

Objectives: Develop estimates of the current supply and current need for HPM physicians. Determine whether a shortage exists and estimate size of shortage in full-time equivalents (FTEs) and individual physicians needed.

Methods: The Task Force projected national demand for physicians in hospice- and in hospital-based palliative care by modeling hypothetical national demand on the observed pattern of physician use at selected exemplar institutions. The model was based on assumptions that all hospices and hospitals would provide an appropriate medical staffing level, which may not currently be the case.

Results: Approximately 4400 physicians are currently HPM physicians, as defined by board certification or membership in the AAHPM. Most practice HPM part time, leading to an estimated physician workforce level from 1700 FTEs to 3300 FTEs. An estimated 4487 hospice and 10,810 palliative care physician FTEs are needed to staff the current number of hospice- and hospital-based palliative care programs at appropriate levels. The estimated gap between the current supply and the hypothetical demand to reach mature physician staffing levels is thus 2787 FTEs to 7510 FTEs, which is equivalent to 6000-18,000 individual physicians, depending on what proportion of time each physician devotes to HPM practice.

Conclusion: An acute shortage of HPM physicians exists. The current capacity of fellowship programs is insufficient to fill the shortage. Changes in graduate medical education funding and structures are needed to foster the capacity to train sufficient numbers of HPM physicians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Hospice Care*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Physicians*
  • United States
  • Workforce