States Struggle to Keep Doctors Home

Joe Cantlupe, July 8, 2010

After just moving to San Diego, I went to lunch in a crowded La Jolla restaurant with a friend, and he quickly exclaimed, "All those Zonies."


Arizona residents who escape the heat and go to San Diego for its nice balmy weather; that's why the restaurant was so packed, he said.

Our little exchange about Arizonans was carried out in good humor. It was the late 1980s and Arizona's population was beginning to escalate. Yet there was little doubt once the Zonies ended their vacations in California, that they would leave, and our restaurants would be less crowded, as well as the beaches and everything else.

The population growth continues in Arizona, especially among older baby boomers. In the meantime, there are increasing questions about who is going to care for their patient population, according to a 2005 study on physician workforce by the Arizona State University Center for Health Information recently released.

From 1994 to 2004, the physician workforce in Arizona increased from 8,026 to 12,024, at a rate higher than the overall population increase in the state at that time. But the ratio of physicians to population in Arizona was 207 per 100,000 in 2004 — considerably below the national average, which was 283 per 100,000.

And the estimated 2010 national ratio is about 299 physicians per 100,000, and 213 per 100,000 for Arizona, according to The Arizona Republic. That gap is still significant, William G. Johnson, PhD, director of the center and professor of ASU's biomedical information and co-author of the report, said.

The Republic's story about the study, has gathered a lot of attention. But the state isn't alone in trying to keep physicians home, that's for sure. I checked the U.S. Census Bureau, noted the ratio of physicians to populace as of 2007. States having a lower number of physicians per 100,000 than Arizona included:

  • Idaho, 169
  • Oklahoma, 173
  • Mississippi, 178
  • Iowa, 189
  • Arkansas, 203
  • Utah, 208
  • Texas, 214

One of the biggest issues for some states is that they are not cultivating their own physicians. That's specifically Arizona's problem, according to the study.

Joe Cantlupe Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.Twitter
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