Minnesota Hospital Association


July 22, 2014

New Minnesota Hospital Association study projects shortage of Minnesota physicians

A new study conducted for the Minnesota Hospital Association confirms what many in health care have already warned: a shortage of primary care physicians will develop over the next 10 years.  

Every year, MHA collects health care workforce data from the majority of the state’s hospitals. For the first time, MHA asked Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW), a global professional services company, to conduct a comprehensive review of the state of the primary care physician and registered nurse (RN) workforces in Minnesota. Towers Watson used publicly available data from the national Bureau of Labor Statistics and state of Minnesota, as well as the workforce data provided to MHA by Minnesota hospitals.  

The study found that “the current pipeline of graduates barely appears adequate to replace retirements as they occur. That, coupled with projected increases in demand because of an aging population, will result in a significant talent gap for physicians.”   

Specifically, according to the study, a cumulative shortfall of almost 850 primary care physicians is projected for the Minnesota workforce by 2024 because of the lack of annual growth in Minnesota’s graduate medical education programs, including residency or clinical training positions.   

“Many of our hospitals, especially those in greater Minnesota, already have difficulty attracting physicians,” said Lawrence J. Massa, president & CEO of MHA. “I hope this new information will provide an impetus to policy makers to make the urgent decisions needed on both the state and federal levels to give our health professional students access to the clinical training and residency experience they need to become licensed to practice.”  

Residency and clinical training funding increases needed

The future shortage of primary care physicians is largely the result of stagnant annual growth in medical education and training programs. After students graduate from medical school, they encounter a “bottleneck” because the funding and the number of “slots” for residency programs have been frozen since 1996, the study says. Residency programs face funding and clinical space challenges. Consequently, the growth in Minnesota’s Graduate Medical Education has been very slow in recent history.   

RN supply projected to meet demand

Assuming that education programs for RNs continue to grow at their expected rate, the MHA study found that the supply of RNs will likely meet the demand. It is important though that nursing students have access to practical and clinical experience.   

Nationally, the future demand for health care professionals will be based on a variety of factors, such as: population growth, population age and health, technological advances, and care team delivery models -- in other words, how people access care from groups of coordinated caregivers. Towers Watson also notes that an aging population, slow graduate growth, increasing retirements, and growing population are “driving an impending talent shortage in the health care industry on a national level.”   

Federal and state policy makers need to take action

To respond to these workforce challenges, MHA will urge federal and state policy makers to: 

  • Lift the 17-year freeze on the number of physician residency positions available under Medicare funding, which artificially limits the number of physicians trained each year. 
  • Oppose cuts to federal Graduate Medical Education funding that would further jeopardize the ability of Minnesota’s hospitals and health systems to train the next generation of physicians. 
  • Develop a statewide health care workforce plan, such as one focused on primary care that is under discussion by the Governor’s office in conjunction with the National Governor’s Association.  
  • Seek ways to increase funding of Minnesota’s Medical Education and Research Costs (MERC) program that helps hospitals and health systems offset some of the higher costs associated with training physicians and other health care professionals. 
  • Support development of new care delivery models, including increased use of tele-health technologies, to relieve some of the demands on primary care physicians while continuing to ensure timely and convenient access to primary care for residents across the state. 

In addition, MHA is encouraging the Minnesota Department of Human Services to implement temporary payment increases for primary care services delivered to Medicaid patients as called for under federal law.   

“Given the challenges of moving additional spending proposals through Congress, solutions at the federal level may continue to be elusive,” Massa said. “More action at the state level is critical.”   

“Minnesota health care organizations will need to take action to ensure they have access to the talent needed to successfully deliver quality care,” said the study’s chief author, Rick Sherwood, director, talent & rewards, Towers Watson.   

View the presentation on the MHA workforce study.   


About Minnesota Hospitals The Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) represents 143 Minnesota hospitals and health systems which employ more than 113,000 health professionals. In 2012, there were 560,679 inpatient admissions to Minnesota hospitals and more than 11 million outpatient visits. Minnesota hospitals generated $27.2 billion annually in economic activity, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. In addition, Minnesota hospitals contributed about $3.9 billion in community benefit activities and funding in 2012.   

About Towers Watson Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. The company offers consulting, technology and solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management. Towers Watson has more than 14,000 associates around the world and is located on the web at towerswatson.com.