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Navigating the Anesthesia Manpower Shortage

April 8, 2024

There is clearly a shortage of anesthesia providers in the country today. This a a result of a variety of factors including the pandemic, dramatic increases in the number of anesthetizing locations and provider lifestyle choices. According to various sources, by 2033, the anesthesiology workforce may experience a shortage of approximately 12,500 anesthesiologists, representing nearly 30 percent of the current staff. Currently, the workforce is comprised of 42,264 active anesthesiologists and 56,000 active certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).

The impact of this shortage is affecting most anesthesia practices in a number of ways. As the market tightens, compensation demands increase, which is a normal economic response to a scarcity of providers where the price of anesthesia care is a function of the supply and demand for qualified providers. Given this situation, many providers continue to take advantage of the opportunity to find better positions and move away. This attrition makes the recruitment and retention of providers ever more challenging. For many of our clients, recruitment has become a constant challenge.

The Main Reasons Providers Seek Other Employment Options

Money is not always the primary factor in a provider’s decision to leave a practice. Every provider must ultimately decide on an appropriate balance of income and lifestyle. A ten percent increase in compensation is probably not enough to justify a change in job; but, if the provider feels he or she is being overworked or underpaid, then jobs that offer fewer hours or a lighter workload become attractive.

As a result of the pandemic, many anesthesia providers have decided to either reduce their workload or retire from practice. Another significant factor is the provider’s perception of the security of the practice’s contract with the facility. Some providers become particularly jittery during contract negotiations.

Reasonable Strategies to Manage Staffing Challenges

Practices facing staffing issues have three options. They can reduce services, which is not ever a desirable option. They can find ways to provide the services more efficiently, which may involve changing the staffing model. They can request additional stipend support from the facility. This is the most common option but may prove to be the most challenging because it involves convincing the administration of the need to pay providers more. Many a hospital administrator will argue that giving more support to one department will require a reduction to another so that the budget is neutral. Obviously, anesthesia practices can argue that anesthesia is an essential service: it is impossible to manage an OR site without quality and appropriate staff of qualified providers.

The fact is that every anesthesia practice should be monitoring its budget closely. Attempting to recruit new providers with a more generous compensation package will ultimately impact the compensation of all providers. This can be especially challenging given the growing impact of Medicare and Medicaid discounts.

The advice often given to parents may well apply to anesthesia practices: try not to permit today what you will regret tomorrow. The current situation will not be resolved with short-term fixes but will inevitably need long-term thinking. Keep in mind that effective keys to success involve accountability, collaboration and innovation.

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