Distribution of the U.S. Primary Care Workforce
This fact sheet shows that primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and
physician assistants are more likely to practice in rural areas than are non-primary care specialists, but are
still more concentrated in urban areas.
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The U.S. primary care workforce includes approximately 209,000 practicing primary care physicians, 56,000
nurse practitioners (NPs), and 30,000 physician assistants (PAs) practicing primary care, for a total of nearly
295,000 primary care professionals (Table 1).
Table 1. U.S. primary care workforce by provider type, 2010
|Primary care provider
Source: AHRQ Primary Care Workforce Facts and Stats #1 and #2.
Uneven geographic distribution of the health care workforce creates problems with access to primary care.
While primary care physicians are more likely to practice in rural areas than are non-primary care specialists,
they still are more concentrated in urban areas. Within the primary care physician workforce, family physicians
and general practitioners are more likely than either general internists or pediatricians to practice in rural areas
and to distribute themselves proportionally to the U. S. population (Table 2).
NPs and PAs are more likely than physicians to work in rural areas (16% vs. 11%), and primary care NPs and
PAs are much more likely to be rural (28% and 25%, respectively) (Table 2). This rural distribution is higher than
that of primary care physicians as a whole and similar to that of family physicians (22%).
Table 2. Geographic distribution of health care professionals, 2010
Note: Data derived from analysis of National Provider Identifier file, November, 2010; U. S. Census Bureau Population Estimate, 2008. Rural and
urban designations are taken from the Rural-Urban Commuting Area Codes, a Census tract-based classification scheme that uses
standard Census Bureau definitions in combination with work commuting information to characterize rural and urban status and
relationships of the Nation's Census tracts. Roughly, large rural populations = 10,000-50,000; small rural populations = 2,500 – 9,999;
and remote rural/frontier populations = less than 2,500 people. For more information, go to: http://depts.washington.edu/uwruca/RUCACodeDes2.pdf (Plugin Software Help) and http://depts.washington.edu/uwruca/ruca-uses.php .
AHRQ Publication No. 12-P001-4-EF
Current as of January 2012
Primary Care Workforce Facts and Stats No. 3: Distribution of the U.S. Primary Care Workforce. AHRQ Publication No. 12-P001-4-EF, January 2012. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/research/pcwork3.htm