ATLANTA — Georgia’s shortage of health professionals — already among the worst in the nation — is expected to worsen unless universities expand medical training, according to a new report.

The state will need 20,000 more registered nurses, 2,100 more pharmacists and 600 more dentists by 2012, according to a report released Wednesday by the University System of Georgia’s board of regents.

At current enrollment rates, the state will fall well short of meeting those needs, said Dr. Daniel Rahn, president of the Medical College of Georgia and chairman of the task force behind the report.

“The shortages we are experiencing are projected to worsen over then next 10 to 20 years,” Rahn said.

Rahn’s task force is recommending the university system increase faculty recruitment, add new buildings and take other steps to expand medical education programs.

The report was to be presented to the board of regents at their meeting in Atlanta.

According to the report, the state will need 20,000 more registered nurses than its current complement of about 94,000. But the state’s nursing schools will produce only 12,000 more — assuming all the graduates stay in Georgia, pass the licensing examination and work full time.

An additional 2,100 pharmacists will be needed by 2012, but the University of Georgia is graduating only about 130 pharmacists a year and is turning away more than 100 qualified applicants annually, the report said.

The report also predicted worsening shortages of psychologists, dentists and other health professions. It noted Georgia is below the national average in its rate of doctors per 100,000 population. It ranks in the bottom ten in rates per 100,000 of dietitians and nutritionists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists, registered psychologists and social workers.

Georgia is not unique in anticipating strains on the health care work force, said Edward Salsberg of the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit organization representing all of the nation’s 125 accredited medical schools.

The association anticipates a dramatic decline in the national ratio of physicians to patients after 2020, when as many as a third of the nation’s current physicians are expected to have retired.

Add in the anticipated growth of the U.S. population, and the percentage of Baby Boomers who will be entering old age and needing more medical services, and it’s a recipe for a future shortage, Salsberg said.

The association currently recommends that the number of U.S. medical graduates should be increased by 15 percent by 2015. The organization’s executive council is considering raising that recommendation to 30 percent.

Legislators and university system officials must take steps now, because it takes seven or more years for students to complete medical school and residency training, said Salsberg, director of the association’s Center for Workforce Studies.

“You can’t quickly turn this around; you can’t produce a doctor tomorrow,” Salsberg said.

Not all experts agree about the importance of increasing physician supply.

A large supply of doctors does not necessarily improve the health of a population, according to Dr. David Goodman of Dartmouth Medical School.

Physician don’t always go where medical needs are greatest, and their productivity can be as important as their numbers, Goodman wrote in recent articles in the journal Health Affairs.

“There’s more to improving health outcomes than increasing numbers of practicing health professionals,” Rahn acknowledged. “But unless you have enough health professionals, you can’t meet service needs.”

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