The uneven landscape of newborn intensive care services: variation in the neonatology workforce

Eff Clin Pract. 2001 Jul-Aug;4(4):143-9.


Context: In the past 30 years, the number of neonatologists has increased while total births have remained nearly constant. It is not known how equitably this expanded workforce is distributed.

Objective: To determine the geographic distribution of neonatologists in the United States.

Data sources: 1996 American Medical Association physician masterfiles; 1999 survey of all U.S. neonatal intensive care units; 1995 American Hospital Association hospital survey; and 1995 U.S. vital records.

Measures: The number of neonatologists and neonatal mid-level providers per live birth within 246 market-based regions.

Results: The neonatology workforce varied substantially across neonatal intensive care regions. The number of neonatologists per 10,000 live births ranged from 1.2 to 25.6 with an interquintile range of 3.5 to 8.5. The weakly positive correlation between neonatologists and neonatal mid-level providers per live birth is not consistent with substitution of neonatal mid-level providers for neonatologists (Spearman rank-correlation coefficient, 0.17; P < 0.01). There was no difference in the percentage of neonatal fellows in the lowest and highest workforce quintile (14% vs. 16%) or in the percentage of neonatologists engaged predominantly in research, teaching, or administration (14% in lowest and highest quintiles).

Conclusions: The regional supply of neonatologists varies dramatically and cannot be explained by the substitution of neonatal mid-level providers or by the presence of academic medical centers. Further research is warranted to understand whether neonatal intensive care resources are located in accordance with risk and whether more resources improve newborn outcomes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Birth Rate*
  • Catchment Area, Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Health Workforce / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Neonatology* / standards
  • Physicians / supply & distribution
  • Professional Practice
  • Professional Practice Location / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology