Declining and Aging Rural Physician Workforce

A recent article (L Skinner et al NEJM 2019; 381: 299-301) provided data regarding the worsening disparity in physician availability in rural areas.

Key points:

  • “While the total number of rural physicians grew only 3% (from about 61,000 in 2000 to 62,700 in 2017), the number of physicians under age 50 years living in rural areas decreased by 25%.”
  • “By 2017, more than half of rural physicians were at least 50 years old, and more than a quarter were at least 60.” In urban areas, the numbers were 39% and 18% respectively.
  • It is projected that instead of the current 12 physicians per 10,000 population in 2017 there will be a drop of 23% (9.4 per 10,000) in 2030 in rural areas; in contrast, nonrural physicians supply will be essentially the same in 2030 (29.6 per 10,000) as current supply (30.7).
  • The fact that there will be one-third fewer physicians is coupled with the fact that rural areas have populations that are older, poorer, worse health, lower life expectancy, and less insurance coverage

My take: This report highlights the current disparity in rural health care and how this is worsening as the rural physician population ages.

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