The United State could be facing a severe shortage of doctors by the end of next decade – not enough people are becoming physicians. There could be a shortage of up to 120,000 medical professionals by 2030 nationwide, according to research by the Association of American Medical Colleges. This is an increase of about 14% compared to previous projections about the lack of doctors in the near future. In 2017, the AAMC estimated a shortage of up to 105,000 physicians in 2030.
Already there is a shortage in some areas in the United States, with rural areas disproportionately affected. There are just about 40 doctors per 100,000 people in rural areas, compared to 53 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas, according to the National Rural Health Association
24/7 Tempo reviewed data on primary care physicians from the 2019 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, to find the number of doctors per capita in every state. Most of the states with the lowest doctor-to-resident ratio are in the South, where half of the country’s total rural population lives. These states also tend to be poorer. In fact, many of them are among the poorest U.S. states.
The differences between states with the most and fewest doctors per capita is stark. It ranges from 113.2 patient care doctors for every 100,000 people in the state with the best ratio to half that concentration in the state with the fewest doctors per capita at 52.8 per 100,000 residents.
States with a lower doctor-to-resident ratio share some common attributes, including generally lower median household incomes and higher poverty rates than the comparable U.S. figures. Among the 20 states with the fewest practicing physicians per capita, 17 have a median income that is lower than the national average. Meanwhile, richer states tend to have significantly more doctors per capita.
Many of the states with the fewest doctors per capita also have a relatively high uninsured population. Fourteen of the 20 states with the lowest concentration of doctors have uninsured rates that are higher than the U.S. average of 8.7%, while 19 of the 20 states at the top have lower uninsured rates than the national rate. Doctors prefer to treat insured patients because they will certainly get paid. Some medical offices would not even schedule an appointment before making sure the patient has an acceptable insurance policy.
Some institutions have realized the imminent threat of a doctors shortage and tried to remedy the situation. The New York University School of Medicine, for example, decided to cover all tuition for current and future students. Other schools are expanding enrollment and redesigning their programs to let students finish in three rather than four years so they do not end up with a huge debt.
To identify the states with the most and fewest doctors per person, 24/7 Tempo analyzed data on primary care physicians per capita from the 2019 report by County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The share of each state’s population without health insurance, premature mortality rate, as well as the number of adults reporting they are in fair or poor health also came from County Health Rankings. Poverty data came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey (ACS).