According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the number of doctors graduating from our nation's medical schools has been essentially flat since 1981, with 15,632 medical doctors graduating in 1981, and 16,167 graduating in 2008. The average annual production of new physicians for the period 1981-2008 was 15,819 per year.
Over the past year, Americans have been exposed to almost constant debate regarding how to divide up and pay for the increasingly scarce supply of medical services. However, there has been little to no discussion about how America might expand its capacity to deliver medical care to the nation. Again, the economist in me is attracted to the idea of increasing the supply of medical services not only to meet current demand, but also to increase competition and eventually lower the cost of delivering healthcare to citizens.
America needs more good doctors to care for our sick and ill. If society must choose between building more medical schools versus sending more astronauts to the moon, then I for one would vote for more medical schools. In the mean time, our nation would benefit from a public debate about how to expand the healthcare industry in order to meet future demand while reducing costs. Part of that debate should focus on how to train more physicians.