HAP Resource Center

Fact Sheet: Strengthening the Health Care Workforce in Pennsylvania: Addressing Physician Shortages

Pennsylvania is experiencing a shortage in the health care workforce that is projected to increase during the next decade.

This is a National Trend

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges:

  • The U.S. faces a physician shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 doctors by 2033
  • More than two of every five currently active physicians in the U.S. will be 65 or older within the next decade
  • Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 40 percent of the country’s practicing physicians struggled with the feeling of burnout at least once a week 1

Pennsylvania is already Acutely Impacted by this Workforce Deficit

There are twice as many medically underserved areas (MUA) in the commonwealth and 62 percent more medically underserved populations than the average state. Additionally, Pennsylvania has twice the number of primary care health professional shortage areas (HPSA) compared to the region’s average and one-third more HPSAs than the average state. 2

It is estimated that by 2030 Pennsylvania will lack more than 1,000 primary care physicians. 3

Federal Policy Must be Modernized to Expand the Physician Workforce

Graduate medical education (GME) funding supports the physician training pipeline. Unfortunately, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 put a limit on the number of eligible spots covered by Medicare, as well as a limit of residents that hospitals may include in ratios of residents-to-beds, putting up a significant barrier to bolstering the physician workforce. 

Hospitals and Lawmakers are Working to Address these Challenges

To address these challenges, medical schools and teaching hospitals are investing in additional provider training. Hospitals also are leading innovations in health care delivery models—such as telehealth—that improve access to care. Additionally, the Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2021 provided 1,000 new Medicare-supported GME positions by 2022—the first increase of its kind in nearly 25 years.

Pennsylvania is a National Leader in Physician Training

  • Pennsylvania ranks third in total number of medical school graduates with 1,910 graduating in 2018 4
  • During 2019, there were 9,224 active residents in Pennsylvania, ranking fourth among states and exceeding the national average 5
  • There are 764 total accredited GME programs in Pennsylvania, the fourth highest in the nation and more than 6 percent of all programs. The commonwealth exceeds the national average in GME program concentration, including specialty and subspecialty programs 6
  • There are 81 hospital-based programs in Pennsylvania, ranking third in the U.S. 7

In order to support health care infrastructure and protect patient access to care, it is critical that the number of physicians increase in Pennsylvania. This includes opportunities for building—and expanding—the health care workforce pipeline.

HAP strongly supports legislation which addresses the growing physician shortage and will improve access to care in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S.

The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021 introduced by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senator John Boozman (R-AR), would increase the number of residency positions eligible for Medicare direct GME and indirect medical education funding.

A companion bill, sponsored by Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL), John Katko (R-NY), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), and Rodney Davis (R-IL), also was introduced in the House.

This legislation would:

  • Address physician shortages by adding 14,000 Medicare-funded residency positions, with 2,000 positions added per year for seven years
  • Improve access to care for medically underserved areas by targeting GME positions towards:
    • Rural hospitals
    • Hospitals with acute health care professional shortages
    • Hospitals in states with new medical schools or branch campuses
    • Hospitals already training over their limit
  • Require a study on strategies to increase the diversity of the health professional workforce


1 Association of American Medical Colleges. The Complexities of Physicians Supply and Demand: Projections from 2018-2933. Last accessed: 3/30/21.
2 The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. Addressing Pennsylvania’s Health Care Workforce Challenges Recommendation Report. January 2020.
3 Ibid.
4 KFF. Total Number of Medical School Graduates in 2018. Last accessed: 3/30/21.
5 Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education. ACGME Data Resource Book 2019-2020. Last accessed 3/31/21.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.


Topics: State Advocacy, Workforce

Revision Date: 4/19/2021

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