More Than Enough Kids Doctors, But Not Where They're Needed

America's have been hearing a lot about doctor shortages, but a new study found that while there is an abundance of pediatric and family physicians in the U.S., they tend to practice away from areas where demand for their services is most needed.

America’s have been hearing a lot about doctor shortages, but a new study published in the journal Pediatrics found that while there are enough children’s doctors in the U.S. they tend to practice away from areas where demand for their services is most needed.

Nearly one million children live in areas with no local pediatrician or family physician, according to the study. Among the states surveyed, Mississippi had the highest percentage of children (42%) in areas with a doctor shortage, which the survey defined as areas with more than 3,000 children per children's doctor. The states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Maine and Idaho rounded out the top five with physician shortages.

Regions that had an over-supply of children’s doctors included Washington, D.C., and Delaware -- both had no kids living in regions with a low supply of children’s doctors. The states of Maryland, Washington and Wisconsin also had very few regions with shortages of children’s physicians. The study noted that regions with an overabundance of children’s doctors tended to be wealthier, while regions with physician shortages tended to be rural.

The shortages continue even though the supply of pediatric physicians continues to grow, increasing by 51% between 1996 and 2006. The number of family doctors grew by 35%, while the population of children rose by just 9% over the same period.

In 2006, there were roughly 122,000 practicing general pediatrician or family physicians -- or one doctor for every 1,420 children, according to the study. Regions with an overabundance of child physicians had one physician for every 661 children, while 15% of the regions surveyed had no local child physician, with a total of 953,995 children underserved.

Indeed, while medical schools are graduating more students, previous studies show that doctors tend to flock to regions where they’re needed least.

The study suggested that medical schools and residency programs need to identify students more likely to work in underserved areas and foster their interest and desire in helping these communities. Public funding for physician training could also be leveraged to include efforts to reduce these geographic disparities, the researchers said.