The marketplace doesn't determine how many doctors the nation has, as it does for engineers, pilots and other professions. The number of doctors is a political decision, heavily influenced by doctors themselves.
And Congress also controls the supply of physicians by how much federal funding it provides for medical residencies — the graduate training required of all doctors.
To become a physician, students spend four years in medical school. Graduates then spend three to seven years training as residents, usually treating patients under supervision at a hospital. Residents work long hours for $35,000 to $50,000 a year. Even doctors trained in other countries must serve medical residencies in the USA to practice here.
Medicare, which provides health care to the nation's seniors, also is the primary federal agency that controls the supply of doctors. It reimburses hospitals for the cost of training medical residents.
The United States stopped opening medical schools in the 1980s because of the predicted surplus of doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges dropped this long-standing view in 2002 with the statement: "It now appears that those predictions may be in error." Last month, it recommended increasing the number of U.S. medical students by 15%. Florida State University's College of Medicine, the first new medical school since 1982, will graduate its first class this year.
~"Medical Miscalculation Creates Doctor Shortage" in USA Today on March 2, 2005