Physician Staffing Blog


Ten Statistics and Trends About Physician Shortage

February 06, 2018

24th Annual Physician Recruiting Incentive Report Offers National Benchmark Data, Market Analysis

By Tom Florence, Senior Vice President of Recruiting, Merritt Hawkins

Physician shortage continues to be a growing issue and discussion among health experts. There have been a number of recent studies and surveys that report the obvious. The United States is in the midst of a growing physician shortage that is particularly acute in rural and inner city areas. Many states are facing a serious doctor drought. Do you know the facts about physician shortage? The following is a list of ten statistics and trends that underscore how the demand for physician services is outpacing the supply of doctors.

  1. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) forecasts that in 15 years the United States will face a deficit of up to 159,300 physicians. The AAMC projects that universal access to health care would increase the physician shortage by an additional 31,000 doctors. The AAMC has consequently has called for a 30% increase in the number of physicians trained in the U.S. 1  
  2. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) projects a shortage of 149,000 physicians by 2020, while the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) projects a shortage of 65,560 primary care physicians by 2020. 2
  3. Twenty-four states have released reports projecting physician shortages, and 21 medical specialty societies have released reports projecting shortages in their fields. 3
  4. Between 1987 and 2007 the population of the United States grew 24 percent, from 242 million people to 302 million people. In the same period, the number of physicians trained in the U.S. grew by only 8%. 4
  5. In addition to an emerging physician shortage, there is a long-standing maldistribution of physicians in the United States, with fewer doctors practicing in rural and inner city areas. The Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) currently designates over 6,200 Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) for primary care nationwide, in which over 65 million people live. Sixty-seven percent of HPSAs are in non-urban areas. The ratio of primary care providers to patients in these areas is less than one per 2,000. 5
  6. HRSA projects it would take 17,000 additional primary care clinicians to achieve a ratio of one primary care giver per 2,000 patients in the nation’s 6,200-plus HPSAs.6
  7. HRSA also currently designates 3,291 mental health HPSAs nationwide in which 80 million Americans live. 7
  8. While some 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, only nine percent of physicians practice in rural areas. 8
  9. Fewer than one percent of final-year medical residents would prefer to practice in communities of 10,000 people or less. 9
  10. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of U.S. medical school graduates choosing to become family physicians decreased by 25 percent. 10 Forty-two percent of patient visits to the doctor in rural areas are seen by family physicians, compared to 23 percent for all Americans. 11

Are you seeing similar industry trends? We are always happy to address any issues that readers of this blog may find interesting or useful and we look forward to your comments or suggestions.

Tom Florence is the Senior Vice President of Recruiting, Merritt Hawkins. He can be reached at


1 Dill MJ, Salsberg ES. Association of American Medical Colleges. The complexities of physician supply and demand. November 2008.
2 Worth T. Agencies warn of coming doctor shortage. Los Angeles Times. June 7, 2010.
3 Association of American Medical Colleges. Recent studies and reports on physician shortages in the U.S. April 2009.
4 O’Reilly KB. New medical schools open but physician shortage concerns persist. American Medical News. March 29, 2010.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 National Rural Health Association Issue Paper. Recruitment and Retention of a Quality Health Work Force in Rural Areas. November 2006
9 Merritt Hawkins 2011 Survey of Final-Year Medical Residents
10 Iglehart JK. Health reform, primary care, and graduate medical education. New England Journal of Medicine. August 3, 2010.
11 The Robert Graham Center. The Family Physician Workforce: The Special Case of Rural Populations. July 2005.



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