Physician Workforce and Medical Education in California


Margaret Fix and Janet M. Coffman

July 31, 2020

This report presents an overview of California’s allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) physicians.

Allopathic medical schools grant the Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree, while osteopathic medical schools grant the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. Graduates earning an MD typically complete four years of medical school and three or more subsequent years in a residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). A residency program provides additional supervised training and is required for medical licensure and board certification in a chosen specialty or subspecialty. An increasing number of medical schools offer accelerated three-year tracks or accelerated combined BS/MD programs that can be completed in six to seven years.

Individuals earning a DO typically complete four years of medical school and three or more years of a residency program accredited by the ACGME or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Beginning in 2020, all medical residency programs will be accredited by the ACGME. Some osteopathic schools offer accelerated three-year tracks or accelerated BS/DO programs that can be completed in seven years.

Osteopathic medical schools offer a similar curriculum to allopathic schools, with an additional emphasis on the musculoskeletal system and providing osteopathic manipulative treatment. Osteopathic education also places greater emphasis on the impact of lifestyle and the environment on health.


  • The number of MDs with active licenses in California increased by 7% between 2013 and 2016 (from 105,770 to 112,529 MDs) and the number of DOs increased 26% (from 5,075 to 6,408 DOs).
  • 71,348 MDs licensed by the state of California provided patient care in California in 2015. 4,212 DOs reported providing patient care in 2016.
  • Asians are overrepresented in California’s physician workforce, and Hispanics and African Americans are underrepresented relative to their percentage of the state’s population.
  • Historically, California has relied heavily on in-migration by physicians trained in other states and nations.
  • California has lower ratios of medical students (MD and DO) and medical residents per capita than the United States overall. California is ranked 43rd among the 46 states with medical schools in the ratio of medical students per 100,000 population and ranked 29th among the 50 states that have residency programs in the ratio of residents per 100,000 population.
  • California currently has eleven allopathic medical schools and two osteopathic medical schools. One new allopathic school and one new osteopathic school are enrolling their first students in 2020.
  • Six of California’s medical schools are public (operated by the University of California), seven are private, not-for-profit and two are private, for-profit.
  • MD supply will not keep pace with demand in many specialties. Over a third of California’s MDs are over 60 years old, and the number of new licensees who join the workforce per year is currently too small to replace these physicians as they retire. DOs, who are younger on average, are likely to fill some of the future gap between supply and demand, but the number of DOs in California is much smaller than the number of MDs.