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Some Comments on the Predicted Future Shortage of Physicians

Jacob P. Meerman, Ph.D.
JAMA. 1961;177(11):793-799. doi:10.1001/jama.1961.73040370025015.
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RECENTLY numerous publications have warned of an expected future shortage of physicians. A typical assertion is that of the Johns Hopkins Magazine, namely that there will be a grave deficit of physicians by 1975 unless the medical schools "increase their output of physicians by 50 per cent—graduating 11,000 students annually instead of the present 7,400."1U. S. News and World Report states: "President Eisenhower's Commission on National Goals... calls for a 50 per cent increase in medical school enrollments by 1970."2

The desirability of expanding the physician population is unquestioned. For several reasons, I am convinced that a considerable increase in the number of United States physicians is desirable. Nevertheless the usual conclusions concerning predicted need and optimal supply reflect erroneous reasoning. The above predictions involve 2 key elements, the physician-population ratio and the predicted future population. As I hope to show, not only are ratios


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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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