A: A health workforce shortage means that there are not enough health care workers or not enough workers in specific professions, specialties, or settings to adequately serve patients’ needs. Shortage is defined in different ways for different purposes. It is important to understand the difference between “shortage” and “maldistribution”, particularly at the state and national level. Data and models may indicate that the nation or state has a sufficient supply of health professionals. However, this supply may not be evenly distributed across the country or state, creating pockets of shortage, especially in rural areas.
The Shortage Designation Branch at HRSA works with state Primary Care Offices (PCOs) to assign shortage designations to geographic areas, populations, and facilities that have too few providers and services; these are then eligible to receive certain federal resources. Designations include primary care, mental health, and dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) and Medically Underserved Areas and Populations (MUA/P). See https://bhw.hrsa.gov/shortage-designation/types for additional information on shortage areas.