The impact of the aging population and incidence of cancer on future projections of general surgical workforce needs

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Abstract

Background.

Assessments of the future general surgery workforce continue to project substantial shortages of general surgeons. The general surgery workforce is targeted currently to maintain a surgeon/population ratio of 6.5–7.5/100,000.

Methods.

We examined population and age-associated incidence of cancer to estimate the number of general surgeons needed for initial surgical treatment of the patient with cancer in the year 2035 compared with 2010. We hypothesized that the number of general surgeons needed to provide future cancer care will exceed the projections of available general surgeons based on current training numbers, as well as on population-based ratios alone.

Results.

The total number of new patients with cancers treated by general surgeons is projected to increase 56% (511,450 in 2010 to 798,070 in 2035). To maintain the same patient census per surgeon, it is estimated that 34,698 general surgeons will be needed. This is an increase of 9,198 over that based on current training numbers and 5,300–7,400 greater than the need projected by population growth alone.

Conclusion.

The analysis supports the hypothesis that an increasing incidence of cancer in the future will exceed the potential capacity of the general surgeon workforce. Regionalization of cancer care may be one solution to projected access issues.

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