Which states have the fewest physicians?

AAMC maps doc shortages by U.S. region

Topics: Workforce Planning, Workforce, Staffing, Labor Expense, Recruitment and Retention

December 5, 2011

Does your state have enough physicians? One way to measure is by reviewing the new Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) 2011 State Physician Workforce Data Book, which offers detailed maps of physician concentrations nationwide.

The report analyzed current physician supply and retention, medical and osteopathic school enrollment, and graduate medical education in the United States. In addition to providing a nationwide snapshot of the physician workforce, the report offers one-page profiles for individual states and the District of Columbia.

Overall, AAMC estimates that by 2020 there will be 90,000 fewer physicians than needed nationwide and that shortages likely will vary significantly by region. The report finds there were 258.7 active physicians per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2010, with the greatest concentration in northeastern states; southern and western states having the lowest. For example, Massachusetts, which has the most physicians per resident of any U.S. state, has twice as many physicians per person as Mississippi, which has the fewest physicians per resident.

Why physicians practice where they do
According to the Washington Post's "Wonkblog," some regional variation can be attributed to two factors: rural areas typically have difficulty recruiting physicians, and physicians tend to practice in the state where they earn their degree. AAMC found that about two-thirds of U.S. physicians remain in a state where they received at least part of their medical education.

However, many states' physician concentrations run contrary to those explanations, the Post reports. For example, Texas features two of the country's largest urban areas and last year graduated 1,200 medical students—a number that rivals New York. Although about 80% of graduates stay in Texas to practice, the state continues to have one of the lowest physician concentrations in the country. Meanwhile, Nevada has a low physician concentration even though 91% of its residents live in urban areas.

Despite these contradictions, the AAMC report highlights the potential influence of international medical school graduates, the Post notes. For example, nearly all states that have dense physician populations also report that a higher proportion of their workforce was educated abroad (AAMC Data Book, November 2011; Kliff, "Wonkblog," Post, 11/3; AAMC release, 11/2).

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