• Family Physicians and the Primary Care Physician Workforce in 2004

    One Pagers | Jun 15, 2005
    Larry Green, MD; Ed Fryer, PhD; GR Ruddy; Martey Dodoo, PhD; Robert Phillips, MD; MSPH; Jessica McCann

    In 2004, there were 91,600 family physicians (FPs) and general practitioners (GPs) and 222,000 primary care physicians actively caring for patients, one for every 1,321 persons. These primary care physicians represent the largest and best-trained primary care physician workforce that has ever existed in the United States.

    In 2004, there were 620,627 active physicians whose major professional activity was direct patient care, one physician for every 472 persons in the United States1 (see accompanying table2). Of these physicians, 91,627 were FPs or GPs, representing almost 15 percent of the physician workforce--approximately one FP or GP for every 3,202 persons. These numbers contrast with the beginning of the twentieth century, when there were about 132,000 physicians, approximately one for every 590 persons, with more than 85 percent of the workforce composed of GPs.3 In 2004, the FP workforce consisted of 78,045 allopathic physicians and 13,582 osteopathic physicians, about 17 percent of whom were international medical graduates.

    Family physicians work with other primary care physicians. In 2004, there were 85,293 general internists, of whom 67 percent were U.S. medical school graduates, and 45,139 general pediatricians, of whom 72 percent were U.S. medical school graduates. Thus, there was one general internist for every 2,556 persons 18 years or older and one general pediatrician for every 1,670 persons younger than 18 years. In 2004, there were 222,059 primary care physicians actively caring for patients in the United States, or one primary care physician for every 1,321 persons. A majority of these physicians completed a rigorous three-year training program following medical school, which was designed to prepare them for general medical practice.

    Table. Active Direct Patient Care Physicians in the United States in 2004

    About the Workforce FPs GPs FPs and GPs Primary Care* Other Supspecialists Total
    Physicians in specialty 76,650 14,977 91,627 222,059 398,568 620,627
    Persons per physician 3,827 19,589 3,202 1,321 736 472
    Physicians per 100,000 persons 26 5 31 76 136 212

    FP=family physician
    GP=general practitioner
    *FPs, general internists, general pediatricians, and GPs

    Source: Information from Reference 2

    The United States has the largest and best-trained primary care physician workforce that it has ever had. Given the investment made to develop this workforce, and the benefits that accrue to communities from their work, these physicians represent a precious national resource.


    1. Green LA, Dodoo MS, Ruddy G, Fryer GE, Phillips RL, McCann JL, et al. The physician workforce of the United States: a family medicine perspective. Washington, D.C.: Robert Graham Center, 2004.
    2. AMA Masterfile. Analysis by The Robert Graham Center, 2004.
    3. Colwill J, Cultice J. The generalist physician supply: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Unpublished manuscript. Prepared for the Council on Graduate Medical Education (COGME), 2004 HRSA.

    The information and opinions contained in research from the Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of the AAFP. 

    Published in American Family Physician, Jun 15, 2005. Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(12):2260. This series is coordinated by Sumi Sexton, MD, AFP Associate Medical Editor.