Surgeon shortage jeopardizes patient care

Shortages of surgeons--especially in small, rural communities--threaten patient access to safe, high-quality and affordable care, concludes the American College of Surgeons. Currently, population demand for surgical care is undersupplied by about 30 percent.

"Places with greater resources and better living situations attract practitioners with relative ease; while areas with fewer amenities and struggling economies may be challenged to retain surgeons or attract new ones," noted the ACS at the 96th Annual Clinical Congress in Washington.

To help practitioners, policy makers and patients identify areas lacking adequate access to surgeons, the ACS launched the Surgical Workforce Atlas. The interactive, web-based map shows the geographic distribution of surgeons relative to populations in 2009.

"This website allows users to quickly identify the supply of surgeons in their county and compare it to all other counties in the U.S.," said Thomas C. Ricketts, PhD, MPH, managing director of the ACS Health Policy Research Institute. "[W]e hope it will help decision makers understand the needs some communities have for access to surgical care."

According to the Atlas, patients in need of surgery should steer clear of Nevada, as it retains the least number of per-capita surgeons with only 34. Of its 16 counties, seven have no surgeons at all. But patients in the District of Columbia have access to the most surgeons per 100,000 people--118.

On a county level, Montour, Pa., is the best bet for surgical services, as it has about 454 surgeons per 100,000 people, the largest density of surgeons nationwide.

ACS said it is already developing a second version of the Atlas that will include surgical subspecialties, overlay facilities and visual displays using alternative geographic units.

For more:
- read the ACS press release
- check out the Surgical Workforce Atlas