Physician Supply Still a Concern in Face of Increasing Demand

A new report by the California Future Health Workforce Commission may serve as a road map for state leaders to begin work on avoiding workforce shortages in the healthcare field.

For the past several years, research has shown an increasing trend towards physician shortages across the nation. An Association of American Medical Colleges workforce study released in 2017 found that for every 100,000 California residents, there are 256 active physicians. The preferable benchmark is 291 active physicians per 100,000. The study also found ─ and the commission incorporated into its report ─ that one-third of California’s active physicians are of retirement age.

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The 24 health workforce commissioners represent leaders in health, policy, workforce development, and education. The report of the two-year-old commission lays out  a plan to ensure the state will have enough doctors, nurses, and home health workers to meet the needs of the residents of California, especially for the increasing medical needs of the baby boomer generation. The report provides a $3 billion plan with recommendations that include a state focus on recruiting and preparing more students from underrepresented and low-income communities and implementing incentives such as student loan forgiveness and scholarships for students who pledge to work in rural areas. Along with student recruitment, the state must also expand the number of residency slots to help increase the number of doctors and psychiatrists in the state. The commission also recommends the creation of a California Health Corps to engage students, health workers, and retirees in addressing health workforce gaps.

A more controversial proposal is a recommendation that would allow nurse practitioners to work independently from physicians and expand their scope of practice. Previous legislative fights have ensued over this issue and the California Medical Association is now pushing back on this recommendation, arguing that an expansion would lower the standard of care. The California Association for Nurse Practitioners is applauding the recommendation.

The commission’s chair, Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California system, will be presenting the commission’s report and recommendations to Governor Newsom and legislative leaders in the coming weeks. The recommendations are coming at a time when Governor Newsom wants to dramatically expand healthcare access as reflected in his 2019-2020 budget proposal.

The full report of the California Future Health Workforce Commission can be found at:


Gabriela Villanueva is CAP’s Public Affairs Analyst. Questions or comments related to this article should be directed to