Radiologist workforce decline projected through 2016

Radiologists are working harder and retiring later than desired, according to a workplace survey of active radiologists published in the journal Academic Radiology, making it difficult to predict whether the future supply of radiologists will be adequate to meet demand.

While the current job market is flat, both shortages and surpluses have characterized the supply of radiologists in recent years. If enough radiologists decide to retire earlier than currently projected—as they wish—shortages could develop through 2016.

For purposes of analysis, the authors divided 1,840 respondents into four generations: the Veteran generation (VG, born 1925–1945), the Boomer generation (BG, born 1946–1963), Generation X (GX, born 1964–1980) and Generation Y (GY, born 1980–2000). The distribution of respondents was 12 percent, 45 percent, 40 percent and 3 percent, respectively, and was reflective of the current gender distribution among radiologists of 70 percent male and 30 percent female.

FTE work levels were calculated under four different scenarios:

  1. work at current work efforts and retiring when they expected,
  2. work at desired work levels and retire when expected,
  3. work at current work efforts and retire when they would like to retire, and
  4. work at desired work level and retire when they would like to retire.

Practicing radiologists were surveyed about their current and preferred work levels as well as their desired versus expected retirement ages. The difference between expected and desired retirement age was assessed in 5-year intervals, and FTE estimates were weighted using the response rates for both “expected” and “desired” retirement age at each 5-year interval from 2016 to 2031.

As might be expected, Boomer generation and Generation X radiologists had similar work efforts, both significantly higher than Veteran generation radiologists. No difference was found between genders in current work levels when controlled for generation.

The model estimates the 2011 workforce to be 26,362 FTE radiologists and predicts an initial workforce shortage that will become most pronounced in 2016, after which the numbers will rise over the next 15 years under each scenario.

Based on current and desired work levels and retirement ages, the authors predict that there will be between 21,156 and 24,537 available FTE radiologists in 2016, several thousand less than in 2011.

Under the baseline scenario in which radiologists continue working at current levels and retire when expected, the authors predict a 7 percent reduction in the workforce; under the utopian scenario, in which radiologists work and retire as desired, available radiologists are estimated to be reduced by 20 percent and would not reach 2011 levels until 2030.

All scenarios predict that available FTE radiologists will exceed 2011 levels by 2031.

In the discussion section of their paper, the authors recommend that practice leaders regularly survey their members about preferences for hours worked and retirement age to correctly assess future workforce needs.

“In contrast to recent estimates predicting relatively stable demand for radiologists, we estimate at least a modest decrease in the available number of FTE radiologists by 2016, which could last until 2030 assuming no other changes in workforce needs or imaging volume,” Moriarity et al write. “The amount and duration of this FTE reduction will be greatly affected by the degree to which practicing radiologists pursue their stated preferences for reduced work hours and earlier than expected retirement.”