Conference Coverage

What are the barriers to solving the upcoming vascular surgeon shortage?



– Increasing the number of 0+5 integrated vascular surgery residency programs would help to alleviate a projected shortage of vascular surgeons, according to William D. Jordan, Jr., MD, professor of surgery, Emory University, Atlanta.*

Dr. William D. Jordan, Jr.

“Ultimately the question is whether the workforce pipeline is large enough,” Dr. Jordan said at a symposium on vascular and endovascular issues sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. “When you consider that there are little more than 600 vascular trainees right now, and almost 600 planned retirements over the next 5 years, the answer to the question is no. Our workforce pipeline is not big enough.”

Dr. Jordan pointed out that, in addition, if one considers the current geographic distribution of vascular surgeons across the country, and go with the new standard that 1.4 surgeons are needed per 100,000 population, there is not a single state in the country that matches up to that goal. “So we are clearly going to have a shortage,” he commented. The only way to fill that shortage is to produce more vascular surgeons. But how does the change to a 0+5 residency program model impact that need?

In a survey conducted by the Association of Program Directors in Vascular Surgery in 2016, regarding challenges as perceived by the trainees, the top two concerns expressed were regarding competing specialties and physician burnout. Statistics bear out the concern regarding competing specialties, for example, there is an increase of 85% in interventional cardiology trainees being produced and a nearly 50% increase in interventional radiology trainees. However, in vascular, it is only 18%. With regard to the goals of those vascular trainees, 90% indicated that they wanted to be attached to some academic or teaching environment. “They don’t want to be the lone wolf out there,” Dr. Jordan said, and this is from concerns regarding workload, mentorship, and camaraderie, as well as regulatory and administrative obligations that are steadily increasing and can be handled more easily in a large institution. This will not fill the need for vascular surgeons in community hospitals, creating a shortage of distribution as well as actual numbers.

One key problem with current training is the fact that the new form of student comes with almost no real surgical skills and there is a dearth of vascular surgery cases available to fully accommodate many of them throughout their training career. This is a problem exacerbated by some residency review committees, which are loathe to give vascular surgery cases to new trainees.

Integrated vascular surgery residency programs have grown and there is a substantially greater interest in them, receiving even more applicants than orthopedics or neurosurgery. U.S. interest exceeds the number of 0+5 positions available. One way to deal with the projected 31% deficit in vascular surgeons by 2025 would thus be to increase the number of these training positions. The financial accommodations to do this would be large, but perhaps the creation of an independent vascular surgery specialty board would facilitate dealing with that issue, he concluded.

Dr. Jordan reported no disclosures relevant to his talk.

Correction, 11/19/18: An earlier version of this article misidentified the speaker in the session. The speaker was William D. Jordan, Jr., MD.

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