Hospitals in rural areas are experiencing a shortage of emergency physicians (EPs), a situation that is expected to worsen in the years ahead, according to the authors of a recent analysis.1

Of the 48,835 EPs who practice in the United States, 92% work in urban areas and just 8% practice in rural communities. This is down from the 10% of EPs who reported working in rural areas in 2008.

The analysis revealed EPs working in rural areas tend to be older than their urban counterparts. More than 70% completed their medical training more than 20 years ago. The authors reported the median age for an EP working in a large rural community is age 58 years; that age climbs to age 62 years for EPs working in smaller rural communities. Conversely, the median age for an urban emergency physician is age 50 years.

Nonetheless, the analysis shows the training pipeline to be robust. There are 7,940 residents in 247 programs today, up from 4,565 residents in 145 programs in 2008. The key is where these new EPs will choose to work.

Considering that one in five Americans lives in a rural community, the American College of Emergency Physicians says action is needed to address the workforce challenges facing rural emergency care.2 The organization says its “Emergency Medicine Workforce Task Force” will help identify best practices, site supervision requirements, and funding mechanisms to support further research and training programs focused on rural emergency care.


  1. Bennett CL, Sullivan AF, Ginde AA, et al. National study of the emergency physician workforce, 2020. Ann Emerg Med 2020; Aug 1;S0196-0644(20)30501-1. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2020.06.039. [Online ahead of print].
  2. American College of Emergency Physicians. New analysis reveals worsening shortage of emergency physicians in rural areas. Aug. 12, 2020.