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Open Access Research

The current shortage and future surplus of doctors: a projection of the future growth of the Japanese medical workforce

Hideaki Takata1*, Hiroshi Nagata2, Hiroki Nogawa3 and Hiroshi Tanaka4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bioinformatics, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, 1-5-45 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8510, Japan

2 Faculty of Bioinformatics, Nagahama Institute of Bio-Science and Technology, 1266 Tamura-cho, Nagahama City, Shiga 526-0829, Japan

3 Japan Medical Information Network Association, Toho Hukasawa Building 5F, 2-2-1 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8510, Japan

4 Center of Information in Medicine, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, 1-5-45 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8510, Japan

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Human Resources for Health 2011, 9:14  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-9-14

Published: 27 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Starting in the late 1980s, the Japanese government decreased the number of students accepted into medical school each year in order to reduce healthcare spending. The result of this policy is a serious shortage of doctors in Japan today, which has become a social problem in recent years. In an attempt to solve this problem, the Japanese government decided in 2007 to increase the medical student quota from 7625 to 8848. Furthermore, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Japan's ruling party after the 2009 election, promised in their manifesto to increase the medical student quota to 1.5 times what it was in 2007, in order to raise the number of medical doctors to more than 3.0 per 1000 persons. It should be noted, however, that this rapid increase in the medical student quota may bring about a serious doctor surplus in the future, especially because the population of Japan is decreasing.

The purpose of this research is to project the future growth of the Japanese medical doctor workforce from 2008 to 2050 and to forecast whether the proposed additional increase in the student quota will cause a doctor surplus.

Methods

Simulation modeling of the Japanese medical workforce.

Results

Even if the additional increase in the medical student quota promised by the DPJ fails, the number of practitioners is projected to increase from 286 699 (2.25 per 1000 persons) in 2008 to 365 533 (over the national numerical goal of 3.0 per 1000) in 2024. The number of practitioners per 1000 persons is projected to further increase to 3.10 in 2025, to 3.71 in 2035, and to 4.69 in 2050. If the additional increase in the medical student quota promised by the DPJ is realized, the total workforce is projected to rise to 392 331 (3.29 per 1000 persons) in 2025, 464 296 (4.20 per 1,000 persons) in 2035, and 545 230 (5.73 per 1000 persons) in 2050.

Conclusions

The plan to increase the medical student quota will bring about a serious doctor surplus in the long run.