National Study of the Emergency Physician Workforce, 2020

Ann Emerg Med. 2020 Dec;76(6):695-708. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2020.06.039. Epub 2020 Aug 1.


Study objective: We describe the current US emergency physician workforce.

Methods: We analyzed the 2020 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile data set. All physicians who designated emergency medicine as their primary or secondary specialty were included; nonactive physicians, residents, primarily research or teaching faculty, or those primarily involved in administration or nonclinical work were excluded. We calculated emergency physician population density, using 2018 Census Bureau estimates of the US population; urban-rural assignments were based on Urban Influence Codes. We compared 2020 results with our previous analysis of the 2008 emergency physician workforce. Again, we were unable to account for American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine certification.

Results: There were 48,835 clinically active emergency physicians in 2020. The median age was 50 years (interquartile range [IQR] 41 to 62 years) and 28% were women. Overall density of emergency physicians per 100,000 population was 14.9. Most emergency physicians were in urban areas (92%), whereas 2,730 (6%) were in large rural areas and 1,197 (2%) in small rural areas. Urban emergency physicians were younger (median age 50 years; IQR 41 to 61 years) than those in large rural areas (median age 58 years; IQR 47 to 67 years) or small rural areas (median age 62 years; IQR 51 to 68 years), and more likely to be women (29%, 20%, and 19%, respectively). Most emergency physicians in small rural areas (71%) completed their medical training more than 20 years ago. Compared with 2008, the total number of clinically active emergency physicians has increased by 9,774, but, per 100,000 US population in 2020, emergency physician density decreased in both large rural (-0.4) and small rural (-3.7) areas.

Conclusion: Urban emergency physicians in 2020 remain substantially younger than rural emergency physicians, with many rural ones near the US retirement age. We did not observe a continued increase in the percentage of female physicians among emergency physicians. Given the ongoing demand for physicians in all US emergency departments, this analysis provides essential information for understanding the current emergency physician workforce and the challenges ahead.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Certification / standards
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Medicine / education
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / supply & distribution*
  • Rural Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Workforce / trends*