healthincome inequalityeconomic globalizationinequlaity and growthconnections about us database bibliography map

Printable Map

Does Having More Doctors Extend Life Expectancy?

Physicians are defined as graduates of any faculty of school of medicine who are working in the country in any medical field, whether in a practice, teaching or research. The map below shows the number of physicians per 100,000 people around 1998, as compiled by the World Health Organization. (See WHO Estimates of Health Personnel.) This measurement attempts to compare health care access for people living in different countries, by comparing their access to health care professionals.

The map shows that industrialized countries tend to have more doctors per capita than non-industrialized countries, which mirrors the finding that Life Expectancy <link to presentation page> tends to be higher in industrialized countries. However, there are exceptions.  Many countries of the former Soviet Union have very high physicians per capita rates. Cuba also has a high number, and ranks third in the world, with 530 doctors per 100,000 people, behind Monaco (664) and Italy (554). The high number of physicians appears to be at least partly responsible for Cuba's excellent level of health care. Cuba has a very high level of Life Expectancy, despite the fact that it has one of the lowest spending rates on health care.  (See Health Care Spending.)

However as the graph shows (below), there is no direct correlation between number of physicians per person and Life Expectancy.  The measure of doctors per person provides only a rough guide to access to care.  There are significant intracountry inequalities of access between rich and poor and urban and rural. (See Intracountry Inequality).

Some countries compensate for lack of trained physicians by using other health care professionals, such as nurses and midwives. (For details, see WHO Estimates of Health Personnel, <link to URL specified below>)  Even in developed countries, there is a rise in the number of physician's assistants, who perform some of the work previously handled by doctors. However, the graph (above) does highlight that countries with very low Life Expectancy rates usually have extremely low numbers of physicians.

While there is no direct correlation between the number of trained physicians and Life Expectancy rates, it is clear that unequal access to health care extends beyond a patientıs access to physicians. Good health requires proper nutrition, access to clean water, sanitation and other factors.  However, the low numbers of physicians may reflect a low level of investment into the future health of a country.


WHO Estimates of Health Personnel,health_personnel&language=english

University of California, Santa Cruz about us site map glossary map

Home | Life and Death | Income Inequality | Economic Globalization | Connected | Effects

Updated 3/10/03