The distribution of child physicians and early academic achievement

Year of Publication: 
Health Services Research


To describe the distribution of pediatricians and family physicians (child physicians) across school districts and examine the association between physician supply and third-grade test scores.

Data Sources and Study Setting

Data come from the January 2020 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile, the 2009–2013 and 2014–2018 waves of American Community Survey 5-Year Data, and the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA), which uses test scores from all U.S. public schools. We use covariate data provided by SEDA to describe student populations.

Study Design

This descriptive analysis constructs a physician-to-child-population ratio for every school district in the country and describes the child population served by the current distribution of physicians. We fit a set of multivariable regression models to estimate the associations between district test score outcomes and district physician supply. Our model includes state fixed effects to control for unobservable state-level factors, as well as a covariate vector of sociodemographic characteristics.

Data Collection

Public data from three sources were matched by district ID.

Principal Findings

Physicians are highly unequally distributed across districts: nearly 3640 (29.6%) of 12,297 districts have no child physician, which includes 49% of rural districts. Rural children of color in particular have very little access to pediatric care, and this inequality is more extreme when looking exclusively at pediatricians. Districts that have higher child physician supplies tend to have higher academic test scores in early education, independent of community socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic composition. While the national data show this positive relationship (0.012 SD, 95% CI, 0.0103–0.0127), it is most pronounced for districts in the bottom tertile of physician supply (0.163 SD, 95% CI, 0.108–0.219).


Our study demonstrates a highly unequal distribution of child physicians in the U.S., and that children with less access to physicians have lower academic performance in early education.

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APA Citation

Drescher, J., & Domingue, B.W. (2023). The distribution of child physicians and early academic achievement. Health Services Research.