The American Society of Nephrology has published a new report that analyzes trends and factors influencing the current U.S. nephrology workforce. Authored by health workforce researchers from George Washington University (GWU), the report outlines several challenges for the specialty, notably a declining interest in nephrology careers among medical students and residents and an uncertain job market for recent graduates.

The report and the ongoing analysis of the nephrology workforce is part of ASN’s initiative to increase interest in nephrology careers.

GWU investigators are collaborating with ASN, including Ed Salsberg, MPA—an expert in the field of health workforce research and formerly of Center for Health Workforce Studies, Association of American Medical Colleges, and Health Resources and Services Administration—and Leah Masselink, PhD.

"This study and others planned for the coming years, are intended to provide data and information to help guide the nephrology community through this period of transformation in both the kidney care and the health care delivery system," said Salsberg. "Assuring an adequate supply and distribution requires data and information. Only through these types of studies and ongoing monitoring of the workforce will the nephrology community be able to develop programs and policies to better assure access to high-quality kidney care for all Americans."

The first of several reports to be released, The US Nephrology Workforce: Developments and Trends provides an overview of the nephrology workforce and factors influencing supply, demand, and use, to begin to answer three workforce questions:

1) Will the United States have an adequate supply of nephrologists to assure access to needed care?

2) Will nephrology be able to continue to attract highly qualified applicants?

3) Will nephrology continue to produce investigators, particularly physician-scientists?

Among the findings outlined in the report:

  • The number of nephrology fellowship positions has increased over the past few decades, which will lead to substantial future increases in supply.
  • Fewer U.S. medical graduates are selecting nephrology careers.
  • A survey conducted for the study indicates the current job market for new nephrologists is limited, especially for international medical graduates.
  • More women are choosing careers in nephrology.
  • The number of applicants to nephrology through the National Residency Match Program’s Medical Specialties Matching Program  is decreasing.
  • The demand for care related to kidney disease and injury is increasing.
  • The patient care delivery system for kidney disease and injury is evolving with pressure to constrain growth in expenditures.

“The decreasing number of U.S. medical school graduates selecting nephrology is a warning signal for the specialty. Monitoring and assessing the impact of the major forces impacting the specialty and responding to these developments is necessary for a vibrant specialty,” said Salsberg. The next GWU report, to be released in December 2014, will focus on nephrology fellows and trainees and the future generation of nephrologists.

In addition to working with GWU to produce high-quality analyses of the workforce, ASN has developed other initiatives to increase interest in nephrology careers. These include initiatives to provide students with a positive introduction to the specialty, such as the ASN Kidney STARS (Students And Residents) program to help students and residents experience the ASN Kidney Week or Kidney TREKS (Tutored Research and Education for Kidney Scholars), which engages students in kidney physiology and provides mentoring opportunities. Other initiatives address expanding diversity and inclusion programs for kidney professionals and defending federal funding for medical education.

Download a summary of the report.