Health Professional Shortages

A survey of the number and type of physician shortage areas in each state. State solutions include increasing the number of physicians through medical school enrollment and incentive packages.

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All states face some physician shortages and the problem is predicted to worsen

  • More than 60 million people—approximately one-fifth of the U.S. population—live in an area with a physician shortage.1
  • The federal government has designated approximately 6,000 primary care shortage areas, more than 4,000 dental Health Professional Shortage Areas and more than 3,000 mental health shortage areas.1
  • In Idaho, which has fewer doctors per capita than any state, one-third of its 44 counties have been designated Health Professional Shortage Areas by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.1
  • It would take more than 16,000 additional physicians to meet the country’s need for primary care physicians.1
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration designates a county as a shortage area when it has a population-to-primary care physician ratio of more than 3,500-to-1.2
  • More than 30 federal programs, such as the National Health Service Corps, depend on the shortage area designation to determine eligibility or funding preferences.3
  • Several studies have concluded the U.S. will need between 55,000 and 200,000 additional physicians by 2020. 4,5

Solutions include increasing the number of physicians through medical school enrollment and incentive packages

  • First-year enrollment at the nation’s medical schools increased in 2008 by nearly 2 percent over 2007, to more than 18,000 students—the highest enrollment in history.6
  • The federal government provides scholarships and loan repayment to health professionals who agree to practice for at least two years in a shortage area through the National Health Service Corps.
  • International medical graduates, typically obtaining J-1 visa waivers, account for approximately 25 percent of all physicians practicing in the U.S.7
  • States also have policies designed to address shortages:

    • At least 10 states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia) provide tax credits for physicians locating in underserved areas;
    • Physician extenders, such as nurse practitioners, can provide some services associated with medical doctors, although their scope of practice varies by state;
    • Arkansas provides grants to physicians to help pay costs of starting a practice.

Download the Excel Version of the Table: "Health Professional Shortage Area Designations by State or Territory"

Resources:

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health Resources and Services Administration. "Shortage Designation: HPSAs, MUAs & MUPs."
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health Resources and Services Administration. "Shortage Designation: Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs)." 
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. "Designating Places and Populations as Medically Underserved: A Proposal for a New Approach"
4 Merritt, J., J. Hawkins, et al. (2004). Will the Last Physician In America Please Turn Off The Lights? A Look at America’s Looming Doctor Shortage. Irving, TX, Practice Support Resources, Inc.
5 Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Physician Supply and Demand: Projections to 2020. October 2006.
6 American Association of Medical Colleges. "News Release: Medical Schools Increase Enrollment to Meet Physician Demand."
7 Hallock, James. American Association of Medical Colleges. "Viewpoint: In Golden Anniversary and Beyond, Collaboration is Key." AAMC Reporter. September 2006.