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JAMA Revisited
October 9, 2018

Adequate Supply of Physicians Makes Lower Educational Standards Unnecessary

JAMA. 2018;320(14):1499. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.12611

Originally Published October 12, 1918 | JAMA. 1918;71(15):1220- 1221.

According to the Census Bureau estimate for 1917, the population of the United States was 106,543,317, and according to the new American Medical Directory, the total number of physicians is 147,812. At the present time, therefore, there is one physician to every 720 people. In the various countries of Europe, just before the world war began, the proportion of physicians, according to the best available authorities, was from one to every 1,500 to one to every 2,500 people. Numerically speaking, therefore, more than half of the physicians of the United States, or actually 76,783, might be withdrawn from civil practice before the proportion to the population would be as low as the highest proportion in any country of Europe, namely, one to every 1,500 of population. One physician to every 1,500 people could readily supply all the needs in thickly populated communities, but the more sparsely settled rural communities would doubtless need a larger proportion—say one to every 1,000. On this basis for the entire country, it would require one physician for about every 1,200 people. If properly distributed, this would be a reasonable proportion considering the improved roads and other means of accessibility by which a physician can now cover a much wider territory than heretofore. Based on the number of applications now going through for commissions in the Medical Department of the Army, there will be at least 35,000 physicians who have been commissioned or will have been offered commissions in the Army and the Navy by Nov. 1, 1918. As a maximum, however, not more than 40,000 physicians could possibly be needed by the government service unless the war should continue more than two or three years longer. This would still leave in civil practice one physician to every 988 population. The annual output from the medical schools in recent years has been approximately 3,000 physicians, more than covering the annual loss from deaths.

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