Advancements in modern medicine have greatly extended life expectancy in the past century. The average life expectancy in the US was 47 in 1900, according to Health, United States, 2018, a publication from the National Center for Health Statistics. Today, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the average American can expect to live to past 78 years old.
As life expectancy improves and the population ages, more health care will inevitably be required. In fact, the health care field is predicted to add more jobs to the economy in the coming decade than any other industry. And at the helm are the physicians caring for an array of patients and conditions.
Keep reading to learn more about the types of physicians that are in high demand. See if any of these areas of medicine sparks an interest in you.
10 Types of physicians needed in the US
There are many other types of doctors, but this list will give you a sense of which ones are among the most needed. Each profession below was identified as one of the most in-demand specialties from the Doximity US Physician Employment Report 2019. While data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence of primary care specialties suggests this list is as relevant as ever.
1. Family physicians
What they do: Family physicians, one of the most well known of all the different types of doctors, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries within the general population. As the US Department of Labor (DOL) explains, they are the first point of contact for patients in the health care system and may refer patients to specialists when needed.
Employment opportunities: Family physicians are among the providers most needed to help combat the shortage of between 21,400 and 55,200 primary care physicians by 2033, as predicted in The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections From 2018 to 2033from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
What they do: Internistsare physicians who diagnose and perform non-surgical treatment of diseases and injuries of internal organ systems, such as heart disease or diabetes. Internists treat a wide range of diseases of the internal organs and provide care mainly for adults.
Employment opportunities: Internists are also among the primary care physicians needed to address the AAMC’s predicted primary care shortage of up to 55,200.
3. Emergency physicians
What they do: Physicians who specialize in emergency medicine are quick-thinking providers able to swiftly address life-threatening or emergent situations. Emergency physicians work quickly to conduct evaluations, make diagnoses, and stabilize patients. More than almost any other type of doctor, these practitioners work with an incredibly diverse array of patients and conditions.
Employment opportunities: A press release that accompanied the AAMC physician shortage report indicates there’s a significant need for more emergency physicians.
What they do: Psychiatrists are physicians who diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They conduct medical laboratory and psychological tests to diagnose and treat patients.
Employment opportunities: Studies suggest that a psychiatric shortage will be felt in the medical community in the coming years as more psychiatrists reach retirement and smaller numbers of medical school graduates choose psychiatry residencies.
5. Obstetricians and gynecologists
What they do: Obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) provide medical care relating to female reproductive systems. These types of physicians diagnose and treat diseases and also provide care related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Employment opportunities: OB/GYNs are categorized as surgical specialists in the AAMC physician shortage report, a category predicted to be short up to 28,700 physicians by 2033.
What they do: Neurologists are physicians who diagnose and treat diseases of the nervous system, brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscles, and blood vessels. Much of neurology is consultative as neurologists treat patients suffering from strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, seizure disorders, and spinal cord disorders.
Employment opportunities: These physicians fall under the “Other Specialties” category in the AAMC physician shortage report. The gap for this group is predicted to be between 17,100 and 41,900 physicians by 2033.
What they do: Radiologists are physicians who diagnose illnesses in patients through the use of x-rays, radioactive substances, sound waves in ultrasounds, or the body’s natural magnetism in MRIs.
Employment opportunities: The AAMC report also classifies radiologists as belonging to the “Other Specialties” group, a category that could be short up to 41,900 physicians by 2033.
What they do: Anesthesiologists are physicians who administer anesthetics and sedation during medical and surgical procedures. They also maintain life support and airway management.
Employment opportunities: Anesthesiologists are part of the category the AAMC report predicates will be short up to 41,900 physicians by 2033.
What they do: Pediatricians are physicians who diagnose and treat a wide array of diseases and injuries in children, adolescents, and babies. Pediatricians practice preventive medicine and also diagnose common childhood diseases, such as asthma, allergies, and croup. They may work as a primary care provider or narrow their scope of practice in a sub-specialty. They also provide referrals to other specialists as needed.
Employment opportunities: These practitioners are among the most-needed primary care physicians, providers in the AAMC physician shortage report.
What they do: Cardiologists focus on diagnosing, treating, and managing cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension and arrhythmias. While they are considered medical specialists, they can also focus their practice on interventional procedures.
Employment opportunities: The AAMC report predicts there will be a shortage of medical specialists, including cardiologists, of between 9,300 and 17,800 by 2033.
What physician demand means for aspiring doctors
Because these specialties are all in high demand, it follows that the types of doctors who practice them will also be needed. By pursuing one of these fields, you have a real opportunity to make a positive impact in your community.
Curious which of these types of physicians you might be well-suited for? Check out our infographic to learn more, “What Type of Doctor Should I Be? Finding the Best Specialty for Your Personality.”
*This article was originally published in March 2018. It's since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2021.
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