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March 25, 1974

Is There A Doctor Shortage?

Author Affiliations

Karen Heald
From the Rand Corporation, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 1974;227(12):1410-1411. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230250034026

THE NATIONAL shortage of physicians continues to receive widespread attention. Although many people agree there are locations in need of physicians, it has been difficult to determine satisfactorily the total national need for additional physicians. One often quoted estimate is that of the Federal Bureau of Health Manpower in 1967. They estimated a national shortage of 50,000 physicians.1 This estimate awakened national concern and spurred Congressional and other action during the last seven years. The estimate is usually accepted without much question of its validity; but, because of its importance, it should be subjected to critical analysis.

The estimate was obtained from a series of assumptions (1) The average prepaid group-practice ratio of about 100 physicians to 100,000 population best reflects the current minimum needs of the nation; although the overall US ratio is higher, in 1967 there were 27 states with a physician per 100,000 population ratio below