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California grapples with ‘severe’ doctor shortage, study shows

March 02, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Workforce Professional Development & Education 

California doesn't have enough doctors to handle its primary health care demands and the problem is getting worse, according to a recent article in the San Francisco Business Times about a new study by UCSF Healthforce Center.


The study, published last month, found that California doesn’t have enough primary care physicians in most regions of the state. According to the study, the shortage is becoming more acute because of an aging physician workforce, a growing patient population and expanded coverage through the Affordable Care Act.


According to the study, only two regions of California (the Greater Bay Area and Sacramento) have ratios of primary care physicians per population above the minimum ratio recommended by the Council on Graduate Medical Education (60 primary care physicians per 100,000 people).


The study also found that two regions (the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley) have ratios of primary care physicians to population that are below the minimum required by California law for managed care plans (50 primary care physicians per 100,000 people).


Some estimates show that California will need an additional 8,243 primary care physicians by 2030 – a 32 percent increase.


In an effort to increase California's primary care physician workforce, the state legislature passed a budget in 2016 that included historic support for and expansion of primary care graduate medical education (GME)—committing to invest $100 million over three years to support primary care residency programs in medically underserved areas.


Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed 2017 budget takes a huge step backward, eliminating $33.4 million of that health care workforce funding and redirecting $50 million in Prop. 56 funding that was intended to go to GME programs. The California Medical Association (CMA) believes these budget cuts are irresponsible and make a bad situation worse.


A robust and well-trained primary care workforce is essential to meeting the health care demands of all Californians. Inadequate funding for residency programs exacerbates access problems—every year hundreds of graduating medical students don't find a residency slot in California to continue their training, forcing talented, young doctors who want to stay and practice in California to other states and communities.


CMA will be working through the budget negotiation process to restore this critical funding. We are also urging physicians, residents and medical students to ask their legislators to oppose Governor Brown’s budget proposal to eliminate physician workforce funding.


Click here to read the UCSF study.

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