The General Surgery Job Market
There is a current shortage of general surgeons nationwide. A growing elderly population and ongoing trends toward increased health care use have contributed to a higher demand for surgical services, without a corresponding increase in the supply of surgeons. The number of general surgeons per 100,000 people in the United States declined by 26% from the 1980s to 2005. Cumulative growth in demand for general surgery is projected to exceed 25% by 2025. The Association of American Medical Colleges has projected a shortage of 41,000 general surgeons by 2025. General surgeons make up 33% of the total projected physician shortage, the second highest after primary care physicians, who make up 37% of the total shortage. Despite the demand for general surgeons, the percentage of general surgery trainees going directly into practice is decreasing while the percentage of trainees pursuing subspecialty training is increasing. A recent study reported that graduating residents who lacked confidence in their skills to operate independently were more likely to pursue subspecialty training. This suggests that some graduating residents are motivated to obtain subspecialty training to gain more experience rather than narrow their clinical scope of practice. Given the projected shortage of general surgeons, this will be a crucial distinction when reforming surgical education. General surgery trainees interested in career planning would benefit from understanding the demand for general and/or specialty skills in a job market heavily influenced by a constant stream of new graduates. However, little is currently known about the demand for subspecialty vs general surgical skills in the current job market. The goal of this study was to describe the current job market for general surgeons in the United States, using Oregon and Wisconsin as surrogates. Furthermore, we sought to compare the skills required by the job market with those of graduating trainees with the goal of gaining insight that might assist in workforce planning and surgical education reform.