Growth Seen in Number of Doctors and Nurses

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 27, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Growth Seen in Number of Doctors and Nurses

Byline: Lee Bowman Scripps Howard News Service

Among the dire assumptions about the future of health care in the United States, one of the more persistent has been that the numbers of doctors and nurses are dwindling rapidly.

But several new reports released this fall suggest the shortfalls among key health workers may not be so great as once feared, at least on a national scale.

Think no one wants to work hard enough to be a doctor anymore?

At the nation's 135 accredited medical schools, the number of first-time applicants increased to an all-time high this year, with nearly 33,000 students and a little less than 44,000 applicants. Actual enrollment was up 3 percent, to 19,230, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges surveys released in October and December.

At the other end of the physician work span, the percentage of physicians who are 60 and older remained at about 25 percent in 2010. Although most doctors in recent decades have retired in their 60s and few are active into their 70s, several recent studies suggest that trend is slowing, helping to stave off doctor shortages.

According to the AAMC, in 2010 there were 244 active physicians and 215 physicians active in patient care for each 100,000 people in the U.S., up by about 5 percent and 2 percent, respectively, since 2008.

Even with continued growth in the number and class sizes of medical schools, the association and other groups still fear the nation could face a shortage of some 90,000 physicians by midcentury.

In early December, researchers reported in the journal Health Affairs a more dramatic trend gleaned from census surveys: the number of 23- to 26-year-olds who became registered nurses increased by 62 percent between 2002 to 2009, a rate not seen since the 1970s.

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