The Current Distribution of the General Surgery Workforce in Rural America

Research center:
Lead researcher:
Project funded:
September 2019
Project completed:
March 2021

The U.S. is in a long-standing and worsening shortage of general surgeons. While the number of physicians (including the number of general surgeons) has increased during the past 15 years, the supply of general surgeons per 100,000 population has decreased.

The effect of this shortage is felt strongly in rural areas of the nation, where the shortages are likely to be far more pronounced than those in urban areas, and where residents are less likely to have local alternatives when in need of surgical services. General surgeons contribute substantially to the financial viability of rural hospitals and provide essential backup to rural primary care physicians especially in the areas of emergency surgery and obstetrical, gynecological, and orthopedic procedures. Rural populations clearly bear a disproportionate share of the burden of poor local access to surgical services and the concomitant higher risk of poor outcome or death.

This project described the supply and geographic distribution of general surgeons across rural/urban, intra-rural area types and regions using the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile data and Claritas population data to calculate general surgeon/population ratios.


  • The Distribution of the General Surgery Workforce in Rural and Urban America in 2019
    Policy Brief
    WWAMI Rural Health Research Center
    Date: 03/2021
    Researchers examined the 2019 per capita supply of general surgeons in rural and urban areas of the U.S. and compared those results to a similar study of general surgeon supply conducted in 2001. Researchers also examined change in the regional distribution and age and gender characteristics of general surgeons since 2001.