Current medical and nursing training programs are not producing a sufficient number of qualified critical care physicians and nurses to meet the projected medical needs of the U.S. population, says the Critical Care Workforce Partnership, a coalition of four professional societies. If the trend continues, the Partnership adds, a severe shortage of critical care specialists will occur by 2007, and worsen until at least 2030. The shortages, first found in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in December 2000 and highlighted by the partnership at a news conference yesterday at CHEST 2001, the 67th Annual International Scientific Assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians in Philadelphia, includes critical care physicians, nurses, pharmacists and respiratory therapists.

The societies of the Critical Care Workforce Partnership -- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society and Society of Critical Care Medicine -- collectively represent more than 100,000 healthcare professionals. The Partnership recognizes that there are currently insufficient numbers of qualified doctors and nurses to provide specialized care in intensive care units for critically ill patients and their families. The crisis will intensify as the United States population ages and requires more critical care services. If the United States is faced with a major disaster or terrorist attack, the shortage of trained specialists could also hinder the availability of appropriate medical care.

All four professional societies agree that this shortage is very real and could have a tremendous impact on how critical care is delivered in the future. Research indicates that there is a direct correlation between patient outcomes and care provided or supervised by trained specialists. The societies urge immediate action due to the time it will take to educate and train critical care specialists.

Critical care is provided by a specially trained multidisciplinary, multiprofessional team of critical care specialists that provides the intense monitoring and care needed for critically ill patients, usually in intensive care units (ICU). Critical care physicians are trained in a number of specialties, such as internal medicine, anesthesiology, surgery or pediatrics, and undergo further subspecialty training. Critical care nurses also received advanced training and are responsible for ensuring that all critically ill patients receive optimal care.

The Partnership is calling for a national effort involving legislators, regulators, payors, medical schools, hospitals, other healthcare organizations and communities to engage in discussions about the need for additional critical care professionals. Solutions will involve a wide variety of programs on the federal, state and local levels as well as within the critical care profession itself.

The workforce study published in JAMA was commissioned by the American College of Chest Physicians, the American Thoracic Society, and the Society of Critical Care Medicine and conducted by the Committee on Manpower for Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialties (COMPACCS).