Go to Google and do a search for:
“Economist shortage” and you’ll get 4 results.
“Truck driver shortage” and you’ll get 1 result.
“Realtor shortage” and you’ll get 3 results.
“Computer programmer shortage” and you’ll get 32 hits.
“Attorney shortage” and you’ll get 163 hits.
“Accountant shortage” and you’ll get 445 hits.
Now try “doctor shortage” and you’ll get 313,000 results!
Why the difference? Shouldn’t a competitive, dynamic labor market eliminate shortages and surpluses of certain professions? Sure, but the market for doctors is neither competitive nor dynamic.
In fact, the number of medical schools today (125) is less than the number of medical schools 100 years ago (166), even though the U.S. population has increased by 300%. Consider also that the number of medical students in the U.S. has remained constant at 67,000 for at least the period between 1994 and 2005, according to this report, and perhaps much longer.
In contrast, the number of law schools in the U.S. is about 200, and we don’t hear about any shortages of attorneys.
From the WSJ article “Doctor Shortage Hurts A Coverage-for-All Plan,” Massachusetts faces a “critical shortage” of primary-care physicians, according to a study by the Massachusetts Medical Society, which found that 49% of internists aren’t accepting new patients. Boston’s top three teaching hospitals say that 95% of their 270 doctors in general practice have halted enrollment.
As it happens, primary-care doctors, including internists, family physicians, and pediatricians, are in short supply across the country. Their numbers dropped 6% relative to the general population from 2001 to 2005, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington. The proportion of third-year internal medicine residents choosing to practice primary care fell to 20% in 2005, from 54% in 1998 (see chart above).
Solution: Let’s increase the number of U.S. medical schools to 200 (same as the number of law schools), and we won’t hear about any more doctor shortages, just like we don’t hear about lawyer shortages.