Assuming demand for anesthesiologists' services grows at the rate of 1.6 percent, RAND's baseline projection, the 2020 shortage would be close to 4,500 anesthesiologists; but if the growth in demand is assumed to be 3 percent to account for the aging population, the shortage could reach 12,500 anesthesiologists.
RAND also identified a current shortage of 1,282 nurse anesthetists, but that figure will become a surplus of 8,000 by 2020 under the 1.6 percent growth rate projection and a surplus of 15,000 nurse anesthetists under the 3 percent growth rate projection.
"The projected shortage of anesthesiologists suggests that this country will soon face a gap in anesthesiology services that is just as important to Americans' health as the projected physician gap for primary care services," said Mark A. Warner, MD, president-elect of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, according to the news release. "Healthcare facilities have indicated that as a growing proportion of their patients become older and sicker, they will need more anesthesiologists providing the full scope of care that patients will need before, during and after their surgeries."
The study also determined that anesthesiologists work 50 percent more total work hours than nurse anesthetists and they provide more services to critical ill patients and those with acute and chronic pain.
Read the American Society of Anesthesiologists news release about the anesthesiologist shortage.