Propelled by strong growth in the number of women physicians, the ranks of the medical profession grew by 2.1% from 1993 to 1994, reaching a total of 684,414.
That's among the findings in the newly published Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the U.S., 1995/96 edition.
The number of women physicians grew by 7,364, or 6%, to 133,263. The number of male physicians rose to 551,151. While females constituted only 7.7% of physicians in 1970, they now account for 19.5%.
Those women, moreover, are more likely to be in primary care than their male counterparts. Forty-six percent of women physicians are in primary care, vs. 31% of men. Of primary-care physicians, 61,378 are women and 171,273 are men.
Altogether, the United States has 232,651 primary-care physicians. Of female physicians younger than 35, 56% are in primary care. Of young males, 38% are in that area, defined to include the specialties of family practice, general practice, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics.
The 335-page study is extracted by the American Medical Association from its "physician master file," a database of all U.S. doctors and medical students. It's the most incisive demographic portrait of U.S. medical practitioners available from any source. The data derive from a survey of the physician population as of Jan. 1, 1994.
The report includes reams of tables on physician distribution by specialty, practice type, medical school and geography.
The number of hospital-based physicians increased 5% in the most recent year to 44,529. It was 9,145 in 1970 and 19,360 in 1980. Of that 1994 total, 29,471 were residents, 1,326 were clinical fellows and 13,732 were full-time staff.
The survey also shows the geographical maldistribution of physician resources across the United States. Certain states and cities, particularly in the Northeast, vastly exceed the national average of 252 nonfederal physicians per 100,000 civilians.
Other states, such as Idaho and Mississippi, have twice as many potential patients per practitioner as the densely doctored states. Calculated by census region, the Great Lakes and upper Midwest states have the lowest physician-to-population ratios, while New England and the Middle Atlantic states have the highest.
Out of 3,152 counties in the nation, 149 have no active physician in patient care. While it is to be expected that states such as Montana or the Dakotas, with expanses of land and few people, would be under-doctored, it may come as a surprise to find that Georgia has 10 counties, with 45,800 people, that have no doctor. In Texas, the figure is 21 counties with 50,100 people.
Even Missouri, a Midwestern state with a population density equal to that of the whole United States, has 13 counties lacking an active physician. Some 98,500 people reside in those counties.
In general, states with fewer physicians per capita tend to have more of those physicians in primary care. The state with the highest percentage of primary-care doctors is Wyoming, with 43%. Florida has the lowest, at 29%.