Advanced practitioners may fill gap left by retiring gastroenterologists, CEO says

Looming labor shortages in the medical industry have been widely reported, and gastroenterologists are expected to follow the trend.

Michael Weinstein, MD, president and CEO at Silver Spring, Md.-based Capital Digestive Care, told "Becker's ASC Review Podcast" that newly-minted gastroenterologists are reaping the rewards of being in high demand — though that demand could drop off if the market shifts some of their responsibilities to other clinicians.

Note: This is an edited excerpt. Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Question: Everybody talks about primary care shortages. What do you see on the specialist side? 

Dr. Michael Weinstein: There's certainly been a change. I think COVID has been a big factor in this shortage. I think the private equity investment in medical practices is part of the shortage. Gastroenterology as a specialty has been on the older side. Most physicians, the average age of gastroenterologists in the United States is closer to 60 than 55. It's pretty old. And you take into account this flux of money into practices, it's allowing some physicians to retire a little earlier.

Then you add COVID into that, which has scared off a lot of older physicians from patient contact. So you have this big shortage of specialists in GI, and where are the new physicians going to come from? Gastroenterology fellowships are kind of fixed. They can't grow to meet the demand. 

If you're a gastroenterologist coming out of fellowship, you're in a good spot. You are sitting in the catbird seat; you have lots of options. The salary and benefits that are being offered are significantly greater than what they were just two or three years ago. 

Q: In the old days, we were fortunate to have lots of magnificent physicians coming from other countries that filled a lot of these gaps. How are we going to deal with this going forward?

MW: I think big groups are handling this in a way that allows the more specialized gastroenterologists to do the things that require the higher level of training and more technical skills. And they're utilizing advanced practice providers, they're utilizing technology to provide some support for patients for non-technical services. So nurse practitioners, physician assistants and technology is going to replace some of the need for the actual gastroenterologist.

It takes 13 years to train a gastroenterologist. It only takes three or four years to train an APP. 

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