Hospitals need 24,033 more doctors nationwide to reduce the excessive workload being thrust on the 167,063 physicians already in practice, according to a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry study.

The shortage is particularly severe in rural areas, such as Iwate, Aomori and Yamanashi prefectures. Those prefectures need 29 to 40 percent more doctors than they currently employ, the study released Tuesday shows.

The study is the first of its kind. The ministry sent questionnaires to 10,262 hospitals, including 1,579 small obstetric hospitals. The ministry conducted the research to ascertain the number of doctors needed, given that working conditions for medical staff have deteriorated and an increasing number of emergency patients are being turned away, ministry officials said.

The shortage is less acute in such metropolitan areas as Tokyo, Fukuoka and Osaka. Tokyo hospitals need 8 percent more doctors than they have now, while those in Osaka need 9 percent more.

The survey also shows that doctors tend to avoid going to hospital departments where working conditions are generally considered poor, such as rehabilitation, emergency medicine and obstetrics. These departments need about 30 percent more doctors.

Experts said medical students nowadays have become particularly picky in charting their careers, a development partly attributed to a clinical training system introduced in 2004.

Since the system took effect, students have been required to go through a two-year training course in different departments before becoming a doctor. After acquiring clinical experience, students are likely to avoid departments with harsh working conditions, experts say.

Makio Shozu, a professor of reproductive medicine at Chiba University, wrote on the university’s website that the shortage of manpower, the tough working environment and lawsuits have exacerbated the decline in doctors.

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