Critical Shortage of Cardiothoracic Surgeons Anticipated by 2035

Number of surgeons expected to drop from 4,000 to 3,000 as cases rise

Using projections based on data from the American Board of Thoracic Surgery (ABTS), investigators at the Ohio State University have warned public health officials that the United States is heading toward a crisis in being able to provide adequate cardiothoracic surgical services to meet future demand.

In a presentation at the 96th American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) annual meeting, investigators argued that the crisis stems from both a shortage of trained professionals and rising demand from an aging population. They added that expecting surgeons to dramatically increase their daily workload to meet these demands is unrealistic.

In their presentation, the researchers cited such trends as fewer trainees in surgery residency programs, more exam failures, and fewer ABTS certifications at a time when an aging population will require more cardiothoracic surgical services. They estimated that cardiothoracic surgeons would have to increase their caseload by 121% to meet the demand.

“We predict that there will be an inability to provide cardiothoracic services in 2035 due to the shortage of surgeons and an unknown but increasing caseload. The increase in the caseload for cardiothoracic surgeons will be a result of not only the increase in the general population, but especially an increase in the population manifesting both cardiovascular disease as well as thoracic malignancies,” explained Susan Moffat-Bruce, MD, PhD, MBA, of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

The study found that in 2010, approximately 4,000 cardiothoracic surgeons performed more than 530,000 procedures. By 2030, the researchers project that about 3,000 cardiothoracic surgeons will be available to cover about 854,000 cases. Of the 61% increase in the number of cases, the researchers anticipate a 54% increase in heart surgery cases, a 70% increase in lung cancer cases, and a 64% increase in esophageal cancer cases.

Of the surgical specialties analyzed, the increase in future workload is expected to be the greatest for cardiothoracic surgeons. The investigators anticipate that the caseload for each cardiothoracic surgeon would increase from 135 per year to 299 per year––an increase of 121%.

“We feel this is not feasible,” Moffatt-Bruce said, adding, “This is a sign of a problem that must be addressed now. We do not have the liberty to wait.”

Source: Medical Xpress; May 17, 2016.