The Reading Room

What imaging leaders need to know from the ACR workforce survey results

by Erin Lane

A looming threat of a physician shortage, widespread health system physician employment, growth of national radiology groups, and a push for reduced utilization under value-based care; what do these market dynamics mean for the radiologist workforce of the future?

We have some insight into what the future of the radiologist workforce holds based on the data collected by the American College of Radiology in their most recent annual Commission on Human Resources Workforce Survey which includes responses covering about 40% of all practicing radiologists in 2016.

3 takeaways about the current radiologist market

The data revealed three trends about the current radiology market, some of which align with other specialty areas, like greater sub-specialization, while others are unique to radiology, like the strong hold of independent physician groups.

1. Radiologist employment status remains unchanged and private practice dominates: The majority of radiologists are independent. Academic medical centers are the notable exception, with 23% of radiologists employed by an AMC or university.

2. Specialization continues to outweigh general radiology: The number of general radiologists has fallen by half since 2013, now only accounting for 13% of the radiologist workforce. Conversely, subspecialization continues to rise, with body imagers (15%) making up the largest group of specialists for the second year in a row.

3. Radiologist age demographics remain largely unchanged, while younger cohorts include more women: The overall age distribution of radiologists remains fairly stable with about two-thirds of radiologists being between 35 and 55 years old. Only 21% of radiologists are women, but there are significantly more women in the younger cohorts than older. About 26% of radiologists 45 years old or younger are women compared to 16% and 11% for the 56 to 65 and 65+ cohorts respectively.

Strong outlook for radiology, more jobs available in 2016 than anticipated

Following three years of continued growth in hiring, the ACR estimates a 16% increase in radiologist hiring for 2016. Based on 2015 data and 2016 projections, there are a few notable forecasts for the future radiology workforce.

  • Job opportunities exist for both newly trained radiologists and those looking for a change. The projected 16% increase in radiologist hiring corresponds to about 2,000 hires. There are an estimated 1,200 radiologists that will be newly trained this year, leaving significant opportunity for current radiologists to find new opportunities. Last year’s survey results showed that almost half of the jobs obtained in 2015 were by radiologists changing jobs (45%).
  • Breast imagers and interventional radiologists are in top demand again. The most hired subspecialist in radiology in 2015 was interventional radiology (251) followed by breast imaging (231), compared to general radiology at sixth. Estimates for 2016 hiring mirror this trend, with breast imagers the projected to have the most hires this year followed by interventional radiology.
  • A larger than expected retirement, particularly for radiologist below the retirement age of 65, would cause a national radiologist shortage. Unsurprisingly, the majority of radiologists who retired were over 65 years old. But about one-third of last year’s retirees were between 56 and 65. And this 56 to 65 year old cohort makes up 22% of the radiologist workforce, so any significant retirements within this age range could result in a national radiologist shortage.

Overall, the survey reveals that major trends in the radiology workforce, including a focus on subspecialization, a clear preference for private practice, and a positive growth outlook for jobs are likely to remain constant over the next few years.


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