California’s Physicians: Headed for a Drought?


Janet Coffman, Margaret Fix and Michelle Ko

June 25, 2018

The people in California’s communities rely on physicians — primary care providers and specialists alike — to keep them healthy. This report, compiled using data from surveys completed by doctors renewing their medical licenses in 2015, provides a snapshot of who those physicians are, where they work and what kind of medicine they practice. To anticipate the state’s ability to respond to an aging and growing population, California policymakers need to understand the current supply of active physicians, the number providing patient care and how they are distributed across the state.

Key Highlights

  • Less than half (61,196) of the state’s licensed medical doctors provided patient care for more than 20 hours per week.
  • Latinos and African Americans were substantially underrepresented in the workforce; only 5% of doctors identified as Latino, a group that constitutes 38% of California’s general population.
  • The distribution of both primary and specialty care physicians was uneven across the state, with the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley regions having half as many physicians per 100,000 residents as the Greater Bay Area.


  • Increase funding to expand undergraduate medical education, particularly in underserved areas.
  • Increase funding to expand graduate medical education, particularly in specialties with projected shortages.
  • Provide financial incentives for both primary care and specialty physicians to practice in underserved areas.
  • Support opportunities for international medical graduates to practice in underserved areas of the state.
  • Increase investments in programs that address the diversity of the physician workforce.
  • Invest in technologies, such as telehealth and electronic consultation and referral, that can maximize scarce physician resources, especially for rural areas.
  • Provide training, support, and incentives for team-based care.