Annual UNC-CH study shows state gaining health providers, but big imbalances remain

October 05, 1999

CHAPEL HILL - Almost everything you want to know about the supply of doctors, nurses, dentists and other health-care providers in every North Carolina county - plus a lot you probably never thought to ask - appear in a new booklet published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Most health professions are increasing faster than the state population, research indicates.

The North Carolina Health Professions 1998 Data Book, compiled by Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research staff, shows the state's population grew by 1.6 percent between 1997 and 1998. During the same period, however, the number of doctors increased by 5.4 percent, chiropractors by 6.2 percent and registered nurses by 3.4 percent. The number of dentists climbed by 2 percent, nurse practitioners by 19.2 percent, physician assistants by 12.3 percent and physical therapists by 5.8 percent. Almost all other health professions grew as well.

"Given North Carolina's rapid population growth during the last decade, it is especially significant that the increase in doctors, dentists, nurses and other health-care providers outpaced the increase in population," said Michael Pirani, director of the N.C. Health Professions Data System at the Sheps Center.

"It's also encouraging that the increase in health-care providers was not restricted to North Carolina's biggest cities," Pirani said. "For example, the supply of primary-care physicians and nurse practitioners grew at the highest rate in large, remote rural towns, and the greatest rate of increase in physician assistants was in remote rural counties. This growth in supply in rural areas is one step in ensuring access to health care for all North Carolina residents."

Still, disparities remain, he said.

Jones, Camden, Hyde and Tyrrell counties had no dentists in 1998 while Bertie, Currituck and Gates counties each had one. Orange County enjoyed one dentist for every 792 residents, while Madison County had one for every 9,390 residents. With 380 dentists -- an increase of 30 over the previous year -- Mecklenburg County recorded the highest number of dentists.

Orange, Durham and Pitt counties, which ranked first, second and third, had one doctor for every 115, 148 and 236 people, respectively. Gates, Camden and Greene counties had one for every 9,936, 6,381 and 6,117 people, respectively.

Counties with the most registered nurses when compared with their populations mostly mirrored those with plenty of doctors. Counties with the highest population per registered nurse were Currituck, Gates, Madison and Warren with 418, 397,368 and 356 people per nurse, respectively.

The N.C. Area Health Education Center Program, the UNC-CH School of Medicine and the university provost's office supported the research. Information came from the N.C. Medical Board, the American Medical Association, the N.C. State Library, N.C. boards of chiropractic examiners, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, podiatry, dentistry and optometry, the governor's office and various N.C. state government departments.
-end-
The newest edition of the book is the 21st annual report. Copies can be ordered by calling 919-966-7112. Details also are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.shepscenter.unc.edu/hp.

Note: Health professional figures are available for all N.C. counties. For more information, call Pirani at 919-966-8951.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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