OECD Health Data 2009 – comparing health statistics across OECD countries


01/07/2009 - The number of doctors per capita increased 2% per year on average across OECD countries between 1990 and 2007, but in some countries the trend is reversing.


Some OECD countries hiring more foreign-trained doctors

The number of doctors per capita in Italy has been falling since 2003, but is still above average. In France, the number of doctors per capita started falling in 2006 after a long upward trend. In both countries, the drops are due to fewer medical school graduates.


Though France has recently increased the intake of medical students, the long training period means the number of doctors per capita will continue to decline in the coming decade. There are fewer medical graduates too in Japan and Switzerland, while in Canada and the U.S. graduate rates are increasing but are still low.


Responding to demand for more doctors, the percentage of foreign-trained physicians has increased in many OECD countries. It nearly doubled in Switzerland and Sweden and tripled in Ireland and Finland between 2000 and 2007. In the U.S. and the U.K., about half the increase in the number of doctors was through international recruitment.


General Practitioners underpaid compared to specialists

Medical specialists earn more than general practitioners (GPs) in all OECD countries, with the gap widening in Australia, Finland, France and Hungary since 2000. The U.K. has increased doctors’ pay in the last ten years and GPs now make almost as much as specialists. 


Though generalist primary care is a cost-effective way to promote good health, the number of specialists rose by 60% between 1990 and 2007, compared with a 23% increase in GPs.  On average, there are now two specialists for every GP, and that number is even higher in Central and Eastern Europe and in Greece. Some countries have maintained a better balance between specialists and generalists (Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, New Zealand and Portugal), but that’s changing as the majority of medical students now choose to specialise.

These are some of the findings from OECD Health Data 2009, the most comprehensive source of comparable statistics on health and health systems across the 30 OECD countries. Covering the period 1960 to 2007, this interactive database can be used for comparative analyses on:


  • Health status
  • Risk factors to health (including smoking and obesity)
  • Health care resources and utilisation (including the supply and activities of doctors)
  • Long-term care resources and utilisation
  • Health expenditure and its financing
  • Social protection (including public health coverage and private health insurance)
  • Pharmaceutical markets


For further information about the content of the database, please contact Mark Pearson (tel. 33 1 45 24 92 69) or Gaétan Lafortune (tel. 33 1 45 24 92 67) in the OECD Health Division. 
For more information, please go to OECD Health Data 2009


How to access OECD Health Data 2009 

  • Readers from subscribing institutions can access the online edition via SourceOECD
  • Non-subscribers can purchase the PDF e-book and/or paper copy via our OECD Online Bookshop
  • It is also available on CD-ROM (in single-user or network installations). The database can be queried in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. Japanese and Russian are also available but exclusively in the online version. For information, please contact 
  • Journalists can access the full content of the database for a limited period (30 June - 30 October 2009) and are invited to contact the OECD’s Media Division (tel. 33 1 45 24 97 00 or for a password. 


List of graphs

1. Practising physicians per 1000 population, OECD countries, 2007
2. Growth in practising physicians per capita, 1990 to 2007
3. Medical graduates per 100 000 population, 2007
4. Absolute number of medical graduates, selected OECD countries, 1990 to 2007
5. Trends in the share of foreign-trained doctors, selected OECD countries, 2000 to 2007
6. Contribution of foreign-trained doctors to the net increase in the number of practising doctors 2000 to 2007
7. General practitioners and specialists per 1000 population, OECD countries, 2007
8. Remuneration of general practitioners and specialists, ratio to GDP per capita, OECD countries, 2007 (or latest year available)
9. Growth in remuneration of general practitioners and specialists, 1997 to 2007 


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