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Low Physician Growth in Rural Counties Poses Challenges According to UAlbany Center for Health Workforce Studies' Report

Contact(s):  Catherine Herman (518) 956-8150



Physicians at a table

A new UAlbany study points out the fastest-growing physician specialty groups between 2004 and 2008 were those studying cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology, nephrology, rheumatology anesthesiology, pathology, and radiology.

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 15, 2010) -- Of the 64,818 active patient care physicians practicing in New York State in 2008, the overwhelming majority (91 percent) served in urban counties, according to the latest annual physician report from the University at Albany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS). The report, Annual New York Physician Workforce Profile, 2009 edition, tracks demographic characteristics, medical specialty and training of active patient care physicians in New York State.

 “Our study found wide regional variation in the distribution of physicians. In 2008, there were more than twice as many physicians per capita in New York City than in the Mohawk Valley,” says Jean Moore, director of the CHWS, located at UAlbany’s School of Public Health. “The findings suggest that the current distribution of physicians in the state may pose serious challenges to patients seeking care in many upstate communities, particularly those in rural areas.”

In addition to presenting basic data for the state as a whole, the report describes five series of statistical profiles: one for the state, one for each geographic region, one for each county, one for each medical specialty group, and one for each individual medical specialty.

Among the findings:

  • Of the 82,828 licensed physicians in New York, 78 percent (64,818) were active patient care physicians practicing in New York. Of these, 72 percent were located in downstate New York and 91 percent were in urban counties.
  • The ratio of full-time equivalent (FTE) physicians to the population was highest in the New York City region, with 393 active patient care FTE physicians per 100,000 population. The ratio was lowest in the Mohawk Valley, with 169 FTE physicians per 100,000.
  • Between 2004 and 2008, some regions experienced very little growth in the number of active patient care FTE physicians per 100,000 population. The Mohawk Valley and North Country regions experienced growth of 3 percent.
  • More than 19,000 physicians (30 percent of the total) reported one of the primary care specialties (family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics) as their principal specialty.
  • Between 2004 and 2008, primary care FTE physicians per 100,000 population grew in all regions of the state. However, Central New York experienced the least amount of growth in primary care FTE physician supply (1 percent).
  • The number of non-primary care FTE physicians per 100,000 population grew in all regions of the state. The growth of the non-primary care FTE physician supply was lowest in Central New York and Mohawk Valley (3 percent for each).
  • The most common principal specialty reported among active patient care physicians was general internal medicine (10,064 or 16 percent of the total). The next most common principal specialties were psychiatry (9 percent), family medicine (7 percent), and general pediatrics (7 percent).
  • The two fastest-growing specialty groups between 2004 and 2008 were internal medicine specialties (e.g., cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology, nephrology, and rheumatology) and facility-based specialties (anesthesiology, pathology, and radiology). The ratio of FTEs per 100,000 population grew by 11 percent for these specialty groups over the time period. In contrast, the average rate of growth for all specialties was 6 percent. General surgery was the only specialty to decline over the time period (-6 percent).
  • Eighty percent of physicians indicated they were certified by the nationally recognized American Board of Medical Specialties in their principal specialty. This figure varied significantly across specialties, from 62 percent in child and adolescent psychiatry to 89 percent in dermatology and pathology.
  • Group practice was the largest principal practice setting in 2008, reported by 36 percent of responding physicians. Solo practice (28 percent) and hospital practice (27 percent) were the next most frequently reported practice settings.
  • New York physicians were predominantly male (69 percent) in 2008. However, women physicians were significantly younger than men, reflecting the growing number of women entering the profession. The average age of female physicians was 48 versus 54 for male physicians.
  • Sixty-nine percent of physicians were non-Hispanic Whites. Underrepresented minorities (URMs) (Blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives) made up 10 percent of the physician workforce in 2008, but approximately 35 percent of New York’s population.
  • Thirty-six percent of active patient care physicians reported they were international medical graduates (IMGs), that is, they attended medical school in a foreign country (other than Canada). There were significant variations in the percentage of IMGs by specialty. For instance, 52 percent of pathologists reported being IMGs while only 9 percent of dermatologists reported being IMGs.

The Center for Health Workforce Studies is dedicated to the collection, analysis, and distribution of health workforce data to assist health, professional and educational organizations; policy makers; and the public understand issues related to the supply, demand, distribution, and use of health workers. For more information, visit the Center’s Web site:

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