The Reading Room

Where the radiology workforce is headed

by Jodi Askew

In the face of the widely anticipated physician shortage, many of our imaging leaders have questioned what these shifting dynamics mean for future of the radiology workforce. In response, we’ve compiled our latest on the current makeup and future of the radiologist workforce to help you better understand where the workforce is heading and how to prepare for anticipated changes.

The current state

According to the American College of Radiology’s 2015 Commission on Human Resources Workforce survey findings, for the first time, the percentage of body imagers (including gastrointestinal and genitourinary imaging) now trumps the percentage of general radiologists in the workforce. These body radiologists currently make up the largest proportion of the radiologist workforce, and the number of those employed in this sub-specialty has grown by 72% over the last two years.

Conversely, the number of general radiologists has fallen by almost half in the past two years, now accounting for 12.8% of all radiologists. The other largest groups of specialists are below, listed in descending order:

  • General interventional radiologists
  • Neuroradiologists
  • Musculoskeletal imagers
  • Breast imagers
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Basic research

The largest proportion (30%) of radiology jobs in 2015 are projected to be in the South, followed by 14% in the Midwest, with the remaining jobs in the Mid-Atlantic, West, Southwest, and New England areas, in decreasing order. While the largest majority of jobs are projected to be in private practice (47%), the ACR estimates another 32% will be in academic practice and 17% in hospitals.

Signs of a looming shortage

Recent data has indicated strong signs of an already existing lack of radiologists to meet market demand. A historical perspective study from the Journal of Academic Radiology recently shed light on the outsized demand for radiologists, calling attention to a rise in the number of residency positions from 1,090 to 1,156 in the last 5 years despite applicants for radiology residency positions dropping during that same period from 1,431 to 1,141. Further, given that 7% of all radiologists are older than age 65 and 22% are between the ages of 56 and 65, the looming retirement of a large portion of the radiology workforce threatens to create a further need for these specialists.

The role of the radiologist assistant

Our experts estimate that outpatient imaging volumes will grow by 7% over the next five years. With increased access to health care being a top priority for providers and policy makers alike, the decreasing availability of radiologists may well indicate a potential radiologist shortage at a time of unprecedented demand. As is the case with many other medical specialties, elevating the role of the non-physician providers can pose an opportunity to meet this outstanding demand for imaging services despite physician shortages.

Radiologist assistants (RAs) are registered radiological technologists who have undertaken a higher level of education and training so that they can extend the ability of the radiologist to provide patient care. RAs support the diagnostic imaging team by taking a leading role in patient management, performing selected exams under the supervision of the radiologist, and evaluating image quality.

The American Society for Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) has long held that better utilization of RAs can improve cost-effectiveness and access to imaging despite the radiologist workforce shortage, and reports that many states have embraced the role of the radiologist assistant, with thirty states currently licensing, regulating, or recognizing RAs. For more information on where RAs practice and what types of procedures they might be able to perform in your imaging center, see the ASRT’s 2015 Radiologist Assistant Practice Survey.

We will be looking further into radiology staffing for our 2016 annual meeting. If you’re interested in speaking with our team, please email us.

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