Rural-Urban Differences in Access to Thoracic Surgery in the United States, 2010 to 2014

Jan M. Eberth, Elizabeth L. Crouch, Michele J. Josey, Whitney E. Zahnd, Swann Arp Adams, Brendon M. Stiles, Mario Schootman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Because of recent lung cancer screening recommendations and corresponding insurance coverage, it is expected that more early stage cases will be identified that require thoracic surgery. However, these services may not be equally available in all regions. Our objective is to describe the availability of thoracic surgeons by examining geographic variation, rural-urban differences, and temporal changes before and after screening recommendation and insurance coverage policy changes. Methods: We examined the U.S. thoracic surgery workforce using the 2010 and 2014 Area Health Resource Files. We calculated the density of thoracic surgeons per 100,000 persons for each year at the state and county level. We performed descriptive statistics and developed maps highlighting changes over time and geographic regions. Results: Despite an overall increase in thoracic surgeons from 2010 to 2014, we observed declining density nationwide (1.5% change) and in sparsely populated states. The difference in thoracic surgeon density widened slightly between 2010 from 0.80 per 100,000 compared with 0.84 per 100,000 in 2014 in all rural counties compared with urban counties (P < .001 for both years). The difference in thoracic surgeon density was most pronounced between small adjacent rural and urban counties (0.95 and 0.96 per 100,000 for 2010 and 2014, respectively; P < .001 for both years). The Northeast held a disproportionate share of the thoracic surgery workforce. Conclusions: Limited access to thoracic surgeons in rural areas is a concern, given an older and retiring surgical workforce, the higher burden of lung cancer in rural areas, and recent policy changes for screening reimbursement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1087-1093
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Thoracic Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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