Too Many Doctors?

January 27, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


The number of physicians in the United States is growing inexorably, and some experts contend there is or soon will be a “surplus” of doctors. But demand for physicians' services is growing, too, so more doctors may not mean “too many” doctors after all.

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“Is there a doctor in the house?” That perennial question can seldom be answered “no” these days—not with more than 545,000 active physicians in the land. In 1975, there were about 175 doctors for every 100,000 Americans; now there are more than 225, and the number keeps on growing. By the year 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Bureau of Health Professions, there may well be 265 active physicians for every 100,000 people. That is roughly one doctor for every 380 people.

Some experts think the supply of doctors in this country is already excessive. Economist Eli Ginzberg says that in the 1950s authorities considered 140 physicians per 100,000 population “a reasonable minimum.” The market was tight in those years, but even so, “very few people were dropping dead because they had to wait a couple of days to see a doctor.” Now there has been this immense increase in supply. “If one postulates that on average a ratio of 200 physicians per 100,000 is more than adequate. … then a prospective rate of 260 in the year 2000 indeed represents a surfeit,” he maintains.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Aug. 28, 2015  Doctor Shortage
May 05, 2000  Rating Doctors
Jan. 27, 1989  Too Many Doctors?
Nov. 25, 1977  Medical Education
Mar. 13, 1968  Medical Education
Nov. 09, 1960  Doctor Supply and Medical Education
Feb. 14, 1951  Medical Manpower
Mar. 23, 1943  Shortage of Doctors
Medical Profession and Personnel