Health and Healthcare

States with the Fewest (and Most) Doctors

The U.S. is currently facing a severe shortage of doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2020, the shortage will amount to more than 90,000 doctors, including 45,000 patient care physicians. Why such a shortfall? The baby boom generation is getting older and will require more medical care in the coming years. The newly enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will soon require most people to obtain health insurance, leading millions more to seek care. Finally, a third of all doctors plan to retire this decade.

Read: States with the Fewest Doctors

Read: States with the Most Doctors

24/7 Wall St. looked at the 10 states with the highest ratio of patient care physicians and the 10 states with the lowest. The differences are stark. Massachusetts had 314.8 patient care doctors for every 100,000 residents. On the other hand, Mississippi had just 159.4, or just half the figure for Massachusetts.

States with a higher doctor-to-resident ratio share some common attributes. Generally, the states with high median incomes tend to have more doctors per capita, while poorer states tend to have substantially fewer. Among the 10 states with the most practicing physicians per capita are five of the six wealthiest states by median income in the country.

The ability to pay has a major influence on whether people have health insurance. Each of the 10 states with the highest concentration of doctors has uninsured rates lower than the national rate of 15.5%, while seven of the 10 states at the bottom have uninsured rates higher than the national rate. When doctors treat insured patients they are paid more than when they treat uninsured patients, incentivizing them to move to highly insured states.

“Most of [the uninsured] are choosing to not get insurance because they can’t afford it, and so you’re not likely to get paid, at least paid fully, from those patients,” AAMC’s chief policy officer Atul Glover told 24/7 Wall St. He notes that although the new federal health law will expand Medicaid coverage, the program, along with Medicare, tends to pay physicians between 30% and 40% less than private insurance companies.

Many of the states with high doctor-to-patient ratios also have a larger number of students who perform their residency in the state relative to the size of the population. This also signifies the ample medical facilities in which to practice medicine in the state. Six of the top 10 states are in the top 10 for the number of medical residents per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, six of the bottom 10 states are in the bottom 10 for medical residents.

A state’s doctor-to-patient ratio has significant consequences. The states with the most patient care physicians per capita also tend to be healthier states, and vice versa, Glover said. And statistics back that up. For instance, all but one state in the top 10 had a longer life expectancy than the country’s 78.6 years, with four of the states in the top 10 for life span. Meanwhile, all but two states in the bottom 10 had a shorter life expectancy than the national average, with five of the states in the bottom 10 for life span. States with high doctor-to-resident ratios tend to have lower smoking rates and fewer people who are either overweight or obese than those with low doctor-to-patient ratios.

Both medical schools and governments are trying to find solutions for the shortage of doctors. Some medical schools are expanding enrollment, although that is difficult to accomplish due to cutbacks in federal funds. Others state governments are considering programs that would pay patient care doctors to go to underserved areas for designated periods of time. This is similar to the National Health Service Corps., which will help pay off medical school loans for graduates who go to certain underserved states for two to four years.

Based on the American Association of Medical Colleges’ State Physician Workbook Data Book, 24/7 Wall St. determined the ten states with the most and least practicing physicians per 100,000 people. From the report, we also considered information on physician education, training and gender. All information from the AAMC is from 2010, and represents the most recently available data. 24/7 Wall St. also studied 2010 data on income, poverty and health insurance provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. Additionally,we reviewed data on life expectancy, obesity and other health factors from The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Ten States With The Fewest Doctors:

10. Georgia
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 179.9
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 23.6 (22nd lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 19.7% (5th highest)
> Life expectancy: 77.1 years (10th lowest)

Georgia is one of the worst states on paper for doctors looking to have a lucrative practice. Median income in the state was about $4,500 below the national average in 2010, and the state had the ninth-highest poverty rate. Also, nearly one in five Georgia residents were without health insurance, the fifth-highest proportion in the country. The state has just 20 doctors in a residency or fellowship program per 100,000 people, compared to the average of more than 35 per 100,000 people nationwide. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, state medical schools have increased enrollment by 50% over the past decade in anticipation of an increasing doctor shortage in the state.

9. Wyoming
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 178.8
> Medical students per 100,000 people: N/A
> Pct. without health insurance: 14.9% (21st highest)
> Life expectancy: 77.6 years (15th lowest)

No state has fewer doctors than Wyoming, where just over 1,000 active physicians were employed in 2010. Additionally, there are no accredited medical schools in the sparsely populated state, and only two accredited residency programs, which have a total of 39 participants. At a ratio of 7.1 medical residents per 100,000 people, Wyoming trains fewer doctors per capita than all but three other states. The state has also been unsuccessful in recruiting female doctors, who made up just 23.5% of physicians in Wyoming — the fifth lowest percentage in the U.S. However, there are some potential benefits to practicing in Wyoming: Median household income was $53,512 in 2010, over $3,000 higher than the national median.

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8. Oklahoma
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 178.7
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 27.9 (23rd highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 18.9% (7th highest)
> Life expectancy: 75.6 years (5th lowest)

Oklahoma has one of the least healthy populations in the country. More than two-thirds of the residents are overweight or obese, and a very small percentage regularly ate the recommended level of fruits or vegetables. Also, the state had the third-largest percentage of residents who smoke. As of 2010, there were just 20.8 doctors in a residency program in the state per 100,000 people, compared to the national rate of 35.8 per 100,000. A New England Journal of Medicine article last year identified the state as having the least accessible health care. Tulsa World also notes that state medical universities have not increased their enrollment size yet, which could help increase the number of medical students who might eventually become practicing doctors in the state.

7. Nevada
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 178.1
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 29.4 (21st highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 22.6% (2nd highest)
> Life expectancy: 77.6 years (14th lowest)

Although 57.8% of doctors who received a medical education in Nevada worked there — one of the highest rates in the nation — the state still struggled to find doctors. There were just 29.4 medical students per 100,000 people in the state, below the U.S. rate of 31.4 per 100,000 people. Worse still, there were just 10.5 doctors in a residence program per 100,000 people — one of the worst rates in the nation. According to the Las Vegas Sun, this low rate “makes it difficult to train enough doctors in state to meet [patient] demand.” Recruiting American-educated doctors from other states is also difficult. Of Nevada physicians, 27.9% were international medical graduates, one of the highest figures in the nation. Only one state, Texas, had a higher proportion of residents without health insurance than Nevada.

6. Alabama
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 178.0
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 22.2 (tied-17th lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 14.6% (23rd highest)
> Life expectancy: 75.2 years (3rd lowest)

Alabama’s population is especially unhealthy. About 70% of adults were either overweight or obese, while 13.2% were told by a doctor they had diabetes — both the highest rates in the nation. At 75.2 years, Alabama has the nation’s third-lowest life expectancy. A shortage of doctors makes addressing health concerns within the state difficult. Alabama had just 22.2 medical students and 25.3 doctors in residence programs per 100,000 people, both considerably lower than their respective national rates of 31.4 and 35.8 per 100,000. Currently, there are only two accredited medical schools in Alabama. One of these, the University of Alabama School of Medicine, plans to open to a new regional campus to assist the state in training more doctors.

5. Texas
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 176.1
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 26.2 (25th lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 23.7% (the highest)
> Life expectancy: 78.3 years (21st lowest)

Texas is currently facing shortages in 36 out of 40 medical specialties, according to D Healthcare Daily.  In order to get more doctors working sooner, Texas Tech introduced a three-year medical program for students willing to enter patient care in 2011. In addition to potentially saving a year of tuition, students in the first-year program will receive scholarship assistance. Recently, Texas passed legislation requiring foreign-educated doctors to work for three years in medically underserved areas in exchange for a Texas license. Some experts fear this could make Texas’ doctor shortage worse, as international medical graduates — who account for 23.9% of doctors in Texas — go looking for work in other states.

4. Idaho
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 172.5
> Medical students per 100,000 people: N/A
> Pct. without health insurance: 17.7% (11th highest)
> Life expectancy: 79.2 years (20th highest)

Although Idaho’s doctor shortage is among the worst in the nation, the state’s lack of medical residents is potentially just as problematic. There are just 3.9 medical residents per 100,000 people in Idaho — the second-worst figure in the U.S. and well below the national figure of 35.8 per 100,000. The Pending retirement of doctors in the state is also an issue. In a report on Idaho’s doctor shortage, NPR noted that 41.5% of physicians in the state are 55 and older. Idaho is one of just a few states that has no accredited medical school.

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3. Utah
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 169.5
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 14.1 (7th lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 15.3 % (19th highest)
> Life expectancy: 80.1 years (8th highest)

In many ways, Utah doesn’t share the characteristics of a state with a low doctor-to-patient ratio. The state’s median household income was about $4,700 higher than the national figure. The state’s uninsured rate was slightly below the national rate of 15.5%. But the state has only one medical school, the University of Utah, and it had to trim enrollment by 20 students a year due to recent federal budget cuts. Meanwhile, Utah’s population has grown faster than all states with the exception of Texas between April 2010 and July 2011. While the state has recruited out-of-state doctors to fill the gap, Sri Koduri of the Utah Medical Education Council recently told the Salt Lake Tribune that Utah doesn’t pay like other states. ”It’s easy to lose our edge with this group,” she said.

2. Arkansas
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 169.1
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 22.2 (tied-17th lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 17.5% (12th highest)
> Life expectancy: 76.1 years(6th lowest)

Arkansas has only one accredited medical school, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine. Of the school’s graduates, 57.6% were active within the state — one of the 10 highest rates in the nation. The state is one of the least healthy in the nation, as 22.9% of adults smoked and 67.2% of adults were either overweight or obese, both among the country’s worst rates. In addition to these health problems, many people in the state did not have insurance. As many as 17.5% of the state’s population were uninsured in 2010. In 2010, median household income in Arkansas was $38,307, the third-lowest in the nation.

1. Mississippi
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 159.4
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 20.2 (13th lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 18.2% (9th highest)
> Life expectancy: 74.8 years (the lowest)

Mississippi is sorely lacking in doctors. The life expectancy in Mississippi was just 74.8 years, the lowest rate in the country. The state’s overweight or obesity rate was 68.8%, while 12.4% of the state had diabetes, both the second-highest rates in the country. The rural care centers in Mississippi are suffering the most, with lawmakers and hospitals working to provide incentives for doctors to relocate to those areas. In 2011, a group of Mississippi legislators proposed a program to provide grants to doctors who work in rural Mississippi for at least five years. That legislation eventually died. Meanwhile, the Appalachian Regional Commission has sponsored a visa waiver program for years to try and recruit international doctors.

Also Read: States with the Most Doctors

The Ten States With The Most Doctors:

10. New Jersey
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 251.4
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 22.4 (18th lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 13.2% (22nd lowest)
> Life expectancy: 79.7 years (tied-13th highest)

Doctors often come to New Jersey after finishing medical school. Although the state is one of the leading employers of physicians, at 251.4 per 100,000 people, it has just 22.4 medical students per 100,000 residents — considerably lower than the national rate of 31.4 students per 100,000. However, the state is a leader in hiring doctors educated outside the U.S., who account for 39.1% of all physicians in New Jersey — the highest percentage nationwide. Doctors may be attracted to the state because of its wealth; median household income in New Jersey was $67,681 in 2010, the second-highest in the nation behind Maryland.

9. New Hampshire
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 257.4
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 28.3 (22nd highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 11.1% (12th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 79.7 years (tied-13th highest)

Unlike many of the other states with high doctor-to-population ratios, New Hampshire isn’t flooded with medical schools — the only medical school in the state is the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. Just over 28% of students who completed their medical  education in New Hampshire practiced in the state, the lowest percentage of all states. New Hampshire’s population is generally well-insured, as just 11.1% of the state’s population has no health insurance, far less than the 15.5% of the population nationwide. Most resident’s  have the means to buy health insurance — a nationwide low of 8.3% of the population is below the poverty line.

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8. Hawaii
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 265.5
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 19.7 (11th lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 7.9% (2nd lowest)
> Life expectancy: 81.5 years (the highest)

Despite its physical distance from the continental U.S., Hawaii does not hire very many foreign-educated medical doctors. Such doctors account for just 13.9% of all doctors, or the 15th lowest percentage in the nation. Because the state has less than 20 medical students per 100,000 residents, most doctors come to Hawaii only after they have completed medical school. Those who work in Hawaii treat a healthy population with the nation’s highest life expectancy, at 81.5 year and the nation’s lowest adult obesity rate, at 57.2%. Only 7.9% of Hawaiians were uninsured in 2010, the second-best percentage in the nation behind Massachusetts.

7. Rhode Island
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 269.0
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 40.3 (11th highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 12.2% (16th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 79.3 years (19th highest)

Rhode Island has 332.6 total active physicians, including patient care and other doctors, for every 100,000 people, which is the fourth-highest rate in the country. The state’s only medical school is Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. The university is located in Providence, which has a fair share of medical resources. Although Providence doesn’t have the abundance of medical facilities for residencies and research of nearby Boston, the university partners with seven hospitals within a 15-minute drive of the campus to give students easy access to clinical opportunities.

6. Vermont
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 270.7
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 77.1 (2nd highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 8.0% (3rd lowest)
> Life expectancy: 79.7 years (tied-13th highest)

Vermont is a leading employer of doctors, male and female. According to the AAMC, women accounted for 34.1% of all physicians, the fourth-highest figure in the U.S. Aside from hiring, Vermont also educated a large number of doctors. There were 77.1 medical students per 100,000 residents in the state, more than all but one other state in the country. However, only 30.5% of physicians educated in Vermont practice there, the third-lowest rate among all 50 states. Vermont may appeal to doctors looking for security; the state’s population is well-insured, as just 8% did not have health coverage in 2010, the third-lowest percentage in the country.

5. Maine
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 272.1
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 38.7 (14th highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 10.1% (10th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 78.7 years (24th highest)

Maine does not fit the traditional mold of a state with a high ratio of physicians per capita — highest than all but four states. While most states with a high concentration of doctors had relatively wealthy populations, the median income in Maine was just under $46,000, the 19th lowest among states. Also, while a large number of doctors in residency is often indicative of how many doctors will work there, Maine had just 23.6 doctors in residence per 100,000 people, compared to the national rate of 35.8 per 100,000. However, more than half of these residents stayed in the state to practice, one of only 13 states where this was the case.

4. Connecticut
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 273.0
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 25.0 (23rd lowest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 9.1% (5th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 80.2 years (5th highest)
After medical school, many potential doctors choose to perform their residency in Connecticut. The state’s residency programs are quite popular, with an estimated 59.7 residents for every 100,000 people in the state — more than in all but three other states. Connecticut’s top hospital, according to U.S. News and World Report, is Yale-New Haven Hospital, which is rated well in 17 specialties. Among the potential appeals of practicing in Connecticut: only 9.1% of people living in the state were uninsured in 2010, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

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3. New York
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 277.4
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 49.4 (7th highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 11.9% (15th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 80.4 years (4th highest)

New York is home to 68,042 practicing physicians, 54,306 of whom are active patient care physicians, more than any state except for California. With its 13 accredited medical schools the state can more easily attracts doctors since these schools provide residency opportunities. New York has also attracted many overseas-trained physicians. Just over 26,000 of the practicing physicians were trained outside of the U.S., accounting for 38.3% of the total physician population. This is the second-highest percentage of overseas-trained doctors after New Jersey’s 39.1%.

2. Maryland
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 281.0
> Medical students per 100,000 people:  33.8 (17th highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 11.3% (13th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 78.1 years (18th lowest)

Maryland hosts three medical schools, including the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. There were 44.6 doctors in the state completing residency or fellowship for every 100,000 people, the eighth-largest ratio in the country. Maryland’s wealthy population is likely very attractive to doctors. Median income in the state was $68,854, nearly $19,000 higher than the U.S. average. Of the state’s physicians, 35.4% were women, a higher percentage than any state but Massachusetts. Despite its high rate of doctors and wealthy population, the state has a higher-than-average rate of deaths due to heart disease, a higher-than-average infant mortality rate, and a lower-than-average life expectancy.

1. Massachusetts
> Doctors per 100,000 people: 314.8
> Medical students per 100,000 people: 45.0 (8th highest)
> Pct. without health insurance: 4.4% (the lowest)
> Life expectancy: 80.1 years (6th highest)

Massachusetts has the lowest uninsured rate in the country because of the near-universal health coverage enacted back in 2006. The wide coverage helped attract doctors to practice in the state since they reap far more money on insured patients than on uninsured ones. Massachusetts also spent more than $9,200 on health care for each resident, more than any other state. The state’s residents were clearly healthier than the U.S. population as a whole. Only 14.1% of state residents were smokers, the fourth-lowest percentage in the country. And although about six in 10 adults were either overweight or obese, it was the fifth-lowest rate in the U.S. and nearly four percentage points below the national rate.

Samuel Weigley, Alexander E.M. Hess and Michael B. Sauter

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