A major objective of national and state health policy has been to increase primary care physician supply in rural areas. It is not known whether this objective has been met for general pediatricians. This study examines trends in the rural-urban distribution of general pediatricians in the United States from 1981 to 1996.
Descriptive serial cross-sectional study.
At selected 5-year intervals, all clinically active general pediatricians in the United States listed in the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile.
The proportion of pediatricians practicing in rural counties and the ratio of pediatricians to the child population (per 100 000 children <18 years old) for US counties.
Between 1981 and 1996, the total number of general pediatricians increased from 19 739 to 34 100. However, rural pediatrician-to-child population ratios (PCPRs) remained well below urban ratios. Although rural counties of all population sizes experienced some gains over time, only those over 25 000 populations had a meaningful increase in their PCPR. Overall, the urban PCPR increased by 14.0 (or an additional pediatrician for every 7150 children) whereas the rural ratio only increased by 4.1 (an additional pediatrician for every 24 400 children). The percentage of recent residency graduates opting for rural practice declined by half (14.6% to 7.4%) over the 15-year study period. Women and international graduates were consistently less likely to practice in rural counties than were men and US graduates, respectively.
The near doubling in general pediatrician numbers from 1981 to 1996 yielded only a modest increase in pediatrician availability for rural children. The discrepancy between urban and rural pediatrician supply increased during this period and should continue growing based on the increasingly urban location of recent residency graduates and the continued growth of women in pediatrics. New policy strategies are needed to improve rural pediatrician availability, including focusing on larger rural counties and addressing barriers to rural practice for women. pediatrics/manpower, pediatrics/trends, rural health, physicians/supply and distribution, medically underserved area.