Shortage of Cardiothoracic Surgeons Predicted by 2020

January 25, 2010 – With cardiovascular disease accounting for more than one-third of the deaths in the United States, and the Medicare-age population most frequently affected by cardiovascular disease expected to double by 2030, a shortage of heart and lung surgeons could have dire consequences. Yet such a shortage is predicted by a study funded by The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) and the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS).

The number of practicing cardiothoracic surgeons is decreasing and that decline is expected to continue over the next decade. There are currently fewer than two practicing cardiothoracic surgeons for every 100,000 Americans; most of those surgeons are concentrated in urban areas. That ratio is expected to worsen, as more than half of the current cardiothoracic surgeon workforce is 55 years and older, with a large number expected to retire over the next decade. As the workforce level diminishes, the demand for cardiothoracic surgeons could increase by as much as 46 percent by 2025, according to the study.

From 2004 to 2008, there has been a 40 percent decline in applications to cardiothoracic surgery residency positions. In the 2009 match, only 97 of 115 cardiothoracic surgery residency positions were filled. Growing concerns about the decreasing number of cardiothoracic surgery trainees prompted STS and AATS to commission the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Center for Workforce Studies to undertake a comprehensive study of the supply of cardiothoracic surgeons and the demand for their services through 2025.

“We are seeing our workforce diminish at an increasingly dangerous rate,” said STS President Gordon F. Murray, MD. “Heart and lung surgeons are starting to retire, and there aren’t enough new-generation surgeons to replace them. That could mean compromised patient care in the very near future.”

Cardiothoracic surgeons predominantly care for patients in the Medicare population; more than two-thirds of Americans over age 65 are currently diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. To compound the problem, the Medicare population is expected to grow nearly 100 percent by 2030 to an estimated 71.4 million Americans.

STS, the largest organization representing heart and lung surgeons worldwide, is calling on Congress to include provisions in health care reform legislation which will protect access to surgical care and overhaul the Medicare physician reimbursement system. In addition, the Society strongly urges Congress to support loan forgiveness/repayment programs for students who choose specialties with extended training like cardiothoracic surgery.

Local cardiothoracic surgeons are available to talk with reporters about the impending crises. For more information, contact Nancy Puckett or Sharon Porta at (312) 202-5800.