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Monitor / SHORTAGE DISPUTED

Researchers Insist the State Has More, Not Fewer, Physicians

April 30, 2001|Benedict Carey

Call it shortage chic: We're short nurses, we're short electricity, and now we've got doctors insisting their own ranks are thinning--despite evidence to the contrary. What gives?

In recent years, medical groups in the Bay Area and elsewhere have complained of problems recruiting new physicians. The anecdotes piled up so quickly that officials at the California Medical Assn. complained to the press of a brain drain. Last month, however, researchers at UC San Francisco analyzed data from the American Medical Assn. and found that the number of California doctors increased from 177 per 100,000 residents in 1994 to 190 per 100,000 last year.

Incredulous, the CMA now claims that the UCSF numbers are outdated. The researchers aren't budging, countering that 2000 wasn't all that long ago. The study upset other assumptions some have made about California doctors, as well, including:

--The state has too few medical specialists. While the ranks of general practitioners have grown slightly faster than those of specialists in recent years, the study found that about two-thirds of California doctors still have specialized skills.

--Doctors are leaving urban areas in large numbers. The ratio of practitioners to residents still heavily favors the cities: The researchers documented 238 physicians per 100,000 residents in the Bay Area, for example, contrasted with just 120 per 100,000 residents in the South Valley/Sierra region.

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