What’s your specialty? New data show the choices of America’s doctors by gender, race, and age

Interest in sports medicine and interventional cardiology is booming, with fewer doctors specializing in orthopedic surgery and radiology. The number of women doctors is constantly increasing and they are able to focus their practice on children, women and families, while men are more likely to be surgeons.

Those are among the findings in the AAMCs 2022 Physician Specialty Data Reportwhich highlights the number of physicians, residents, and fellows among the 48 largest specialties in 2021. For the first time since its inception in 2008, the biennial report presents data on the race and ethnicity of active physicians — showing , for example, Asian doctors are particularly likely to focus on nephrology, Hispanic doctors (regardless of race) on geriatric medicine, black doctors on obstetrics and gynecology, and Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska on pain management.

Here are some notable trends revealed by the 2021 data, which covers approximately 950,000 active physicians.

Broad specialties attract broad interest

The largest number of active physicians are in primary care specialties: internal medicine (120,342 physicians), family medicine/general practice (118,641), and pediatrics (60,305). The numbers for some other specialties:

  • Emergency medicine – 46,857
  • Cardiovascular disease – 22,262
  • Ophthalmology – 18,948
  • Urology – 10,081
  • Allergy and immunology – 5,009
  • Clinical cardiac electrophysiology – 2,632

When asked to identify their main professional activity, the physicians reported:

  • Patient care — 819,007
  • Research — 12,357
  • Teaching — 12,248
  • Other – 106,046

Wide variety in terms of race/ethnicity

Physicians could report more than one race or not respond. Among the results, by percentage of active physicians:

  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander – 0.1%
  • American Indian or Alaska Native – 0.3%
  • Multiple races, non-Hispanic – 1.3%
  • Black or African American – 5.7%
  • Hispanic – 6.9%
  • Asian – 20.6%
  • White – 63.9%
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Among the most popular specialties, by race/ethnicity:

  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander – Sports medicine, pediatric anaesthetics, pain medicine and pain management
  • American Indian or Alaska Native — Family medicine/general practice, preventive medicine, pain medicine and pain management
  • Multiple races, non-Hispanic – Pediatric anesthesiologists, sports medicine, vascular and interventional radiology
  • Black or African American – Obstetrics and gynecology, preventive medicine, child and adolescent psychiatry
  • Hispanic – geriatric medicine, infectious disease, child and adolescent psychiatry
  • Asian — Nephrology, interventional cardiology, geriatric medicine
  • White – orthopedic surgery, sports medicine (orthopedic surgery), otolaryngology

“One clear takeaway is that physicians from underrepresented groups in medicine are more concentrated in primary care and some other specialties, such as pain medicine and pain management,” says Michael Dill, the AAMC’s director of workforce studies.

Different genders, different specialties

More than one-third (37.1%) of the active physician workforce in the United States were women, continuing a steady increase. According to the Physician Specialty Data Reports from 2008 to 2022, the percentage of active physicians who were women was:

  • 2007 – 28.3%
  • 2010 – 30.4%
  • 2013 – 32.6%
  • 2015 – 34.0%
  • 2017 – 35.2%
  • 2019 – 36.3%
  • 2021 – 37.1%

The increase in female physicians reflects the continued rise in the number of female medical students. Data released by the AAMC last month show that for the 2022-23 school year, women made up the majority of applicants, matriculates and total enrollees — the fourth year in a row that women had a majority in all three groups.

Most of the specialties in which women made up the majority of active physicians focus on children, women and families, including:

  • Pediatrics – 65%
  • Obstetrics and gynecology – 60.5%
  • Pediatric hematology/oncology – 55.7%
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry – 54.6%
  • Neonatal-perinatal medicine – 54.2%
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Women also accounted for just over half of the physicians in dermatology, geriatric medicine, and endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism.

However, they remained a significant minority in some specialties, particularly surgeries, including:

  • orthopedic surgery – 5.9%
  • Thoracic surgery – 8.3%
  • Neurological surgery – 9.6%

“Year after year, we see women physicians still focused on the same specialties,” says Dill. “That tells us we have a lot more work to do in terms of gender equity in the physician workforce.”

Specialty options vary

Some specialties increased significantly from 2015 to 2021, while others decreased. Among those who grew or shrank the most, with the percentage change:

  • Sports medicine – up 42.5%
  • Pediatric anesthesiology – up 37.7%
  • Interventional cardiology – up 32.6%
  • General surgery – down 2.2%
  • Radiology and diagnostic radiology — 2.4% decrease
  • Orthopedic surgery – down 3.7%

Aging Workforce

The physician workforce continues to grow older, on average: 46.7% of active physicians in the United States were 55 years of age or older—up from 44.9% in 2019 and 37.6% in the first specialty report, which covered 2007.

Among the specialties with the highest share of doctors aged 55 and over were:

  • Preventive medicine – 71.4%
  • Cardiovascular disease – 64.9%
  • Thoracic surgery – 62.7%

Among those with the highest share of doctors under the age of 55 were:

  • Sports medicine – 91%
  • Pediatric Anesthesiology – 89.4%
  • Internal medicine/paediatrics – 83.3%

The AAMC has cited an increase in the number of physicians nearing retirement age as one factor behind the projected physician shortage.

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Moving away or staying nearby

Some specialists are more likely to practice near where they trained than others. The specialties with the highest percentages of active physicians practicing in the same state where they were trained were child and adolescent psychiatry (57.0%), family medicine/general practice (56.0%), and psychiatry (55.5%).

Among the specialties with the lowest percentages of physicians staying in the state after training were thoracic surgery (29.2%), plastic surgery (33.0%), and neurological surgery (33.4%).

Residents and members

These are data for residents and fellows in programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

Specialties: There was a wide range of specialties with the largest number of residents and first-year fellows, topped by 11,297 in primary care. Here are some details about other specialties:

  • Family medicine/general practice – 4,856
  • Emergency medicine – 2,820
  • Cardiovascular disease – 1,072
  • Gastroenterology – 619
  • Nephrology – 413
  • vascular surgery – 210
  • Preventive medicine – 97

Gender: 47.3% of residents and fellows were women, from a high of 86.4% in obstetrics and gynecology to a low of 10.7% in sports medicine (orthopedic surgery).

Types of doctors: Medical doctors from the United States made up the majority of residents and fellows (60.1%). Doctors of osteopathic medicine accounted for 16.9% and 22.9% were international medical graduates.

From 2015 to 2021, sports medicine and psychiatry saw the greatest growth in first-year ACGME residents and fellows (27.2% and 26.3%, respectively). The largest decreases were in preventive medicine (39.4%) and pediatric anesthesiology (16.0%).

For more details, including tables, read the full report.

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