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A physician glut by 2000?

While there is a current--and growing--shortage of medical technologists, the physician supply, both present and projected, always seems subject to debate.

Take the latest physician figures from the AMA, reported in the Feb. 18, 1991, issue of American Medical News. The AMA update (see Table I) projects a 17.8% increase in the number of physicians from 1988 to 2000, more than the growth rate for the population as a whole. Some observers see this as a doctor surplus; others aren't so sure. [Tabular Data I Omitted]

William Marder, director of health labor market research for Abt Associates of Cambridge, Mass., isn't too concerned about an employment-threatening glut, but he did warn that the continued increase in physician supply could affect income.

"There's going to be a lot more doctors, and they're going to get interesting jobs," he said. "But they may not have the earning potential in 2010 as they do relative to today."

Total supply is projected to be 646,700 active physicians in 2000, up from 549,160 doctors in 1988, according to the update compiled by the AMA's Center for Health Policy Research. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics is even more optimistic, projecting 684,000 physicians by 2000--a 28% increase over the bureau's 1988 count of 535,000 doctors.

The physician-tw-population ratio is projected to grow from 223.7 physicians per 100,000 population in 1988 to 245.2 physicians per 100,000 population in 2010.

The predicted increase in physician supply doesn't worry William Schwartz, M.D., professor of medicine at Tufts University, who has written extensively on supply and demand of doctors. "I think the best guess is a rough balance between supply and demand with a chance at a shortage," he said.

The boom in high-tech medicine, Dr. Schwartz noted, should provide the necessary job openings as the physician population continues to rise.

Two other facets of the AMA figures are interesting. First, the physician population will be older by the year 2000. In 1988, almost 60% of all physicians were younger than 46 years old. By 2000, less than half (48%) will be under that age.

Second, the number and proportion of women physicians will continue to grow. The number of women in the profession will increase from 90,720 in 1988 to 156,900 in 2000 and to 207,000 in 2010. The proportion of women doctors will grow from 17% in 1988 to 24% in 2000 and to almost 30% by 2010.

As to medical specialties for all physicians, the AMA predicts that there should be no major shifts in supply by specialty. Emergency medicine, anesthesiology, internal medicine subspecialties, radiology, and pediatrics will experience the most growth.

Except for general surgery, pathology will have the lowest growth rate. In 1988, there were 16,902 pathologists. This figure will increase 8.7% to 18,400 in 2000, then dip to 18,300 in 2010, for only an 8.3% increase.
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Author:Fitzgibbon, Robert J.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:494
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