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December 11, 1996

How Can We Tell Whether There Are Too Many or Too Few Physicians?The Case for Benchmarking

Author Affiliations

From The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ.

JAMA. 1996;276(22):1841-1843. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540220065033

Public policy debates continue to swirl around the topic of physician supply for at least 4 reasons. First, entry into medicine, in contrast to many occupations, is not left to the dynamics of the market. Numerical limits on the number of medical school positions are determined by a voluntary educational establishment entrusted with the responsibility of training physicians. Even in periods when medicine seemed a relatively unattractive field—as in the mid 1980s—there were substantially more applicants than available first-year positions. Furthermore, and in contrast to schools of law or business, the application pool is diminished by the need to overcome significant academic hurdles (such as organic chemistry) required for admission.

See also p 1811.

Second, medicine differs from most other careers in the extent to which the public subsidizes the educational process. At the medical school level, this occurs mainly at the 77 public institutions that enjoy some line-item support