Each year, the nation’s medical schools produce more than 20,000 graduates with M.D. degrees. Medical school enrollments are rising, too. But supply may not be enough to meet expected demand: By 2032, experts predict a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians nationwide.

The scarcity will not be equally felt. Some cities are already feeling the pinch: El Paso, Miami, Cleveland, Phoenix and Denver have the highest current demand. The biggest need, in terms of specialty, are family medicine doctors, internists and emergency physicians.

Another big need: Doctors trained in telemedicine, which allows physicians to treat more patients without actually living in the same location or seeing them in person.

Body of Knowledge

The depression under your neck between your two clavicles or shoulder blades is called the suprasternal notch. Or sometimes the jugular notch.

Get Me That, Stat!

A Treasury Department economics review suggests that when the Internal Revenue Service sent 3.9 million letters out in 2016, offering tips on how to enroll in health-care coverage, the mailing may have saved the lives of 700 people.

Federal economists found that the number of premature deaths, especially between the ages of 45 and 64, dropped by one for every 1,648 people who received an IRS letter compared with people who did not receive a letter.


120: Percentage rise between 2007 and 2018 in insurance claims for a health-care service or procedure related to Lyme disease.

30,000: Approximate number of Lyme disease cases reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year by state health departments.

FAIR Health, CDC

Mania of the Week

Hippomania: An obsession with horses. The quite similar “hypomania” refers to a minor mania. It probably does not mean an obsession with ponies.

Never Say ‘Diet’

The Major League Eating record for fruitcake is 4 pounds and 14.25 ounces in 10 minutes, held by Sonya Thomas of Alexandria, Va. There is no truth to the allegation that the fruitcake is always repurposed for future contests.


“Leave something on your plate. Better to go to waste than to waist.”
— Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual

Medical History

This week in 1960, Dr. Irving Cooper received a Christmas gift that inspired his invention of the first cryosurgery device (to freeze tissue). The gift was a wine bottle opener that lifted the cork by injecting carbon dioxide gas into the bottle. He observed the gas was very cold when released, and he could direct small squirts from it to freeze tiny areas on the palm of his hand and watch them thaw.

He also observed that the freezing effect was very localized and isolated from the surrounding tissue. From this inspiration, he developed a technique of brain surgery in which he used liquid nitrogen flowing in a thin tube first to deaden and then to freeze tremor-causing brain cells or tumors.

The invention created a new field of surgery with applications for other areas of the body as well.

Ig Nobel Apprised

The Ig Nobel Prizes celebrate achievements that make people laugh and then think — a look at real science that’s hard to take seriously and even harder to ignore.

In 2001, the Ig Nobel Prize in psychology went to Lawrence Sherman of Miami University in Ohio for his uplifting report: “An Ecological Study of Glee in Small Groups of Preschool Children.”

Sherman studied videotapes of 596 formal lessons in a preschool. He characterized glee as “joyful screaming, laughing and intense physical acts” that spread in a contagious fashion from one child to another. The most common precipitating factors: teacher requests for volunteers, unstructured lags in lessons, gross physical-motor actions and cognitive incongruities, otherwise known as sheer silliness.


Q: Where would you find your tragus?

A: You have a pair of them (tragi?). The tragus is the small protrusion located on the external ear, in front of the concha and projecting backward and downward over the meatus.

More simply, it’s usually the fleshy projection you push inward when you want to plug your ears and block out sound. The protrusion opposite the tragus is called the antitragus.

Fit to be Tried

There are thousands of exercises, and you’ve only got one body, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try them all: The following is a good exercise while sitting at the holiday dinner table because it strengthens your core muscles while also making it appear you’re interested in what your table partners are saying.

Sit straight with legs shoulder width apart and knees bent over edge of chair. Rotate upper body as far to the left as you can, hold for five seconds, then repeat on the right. Grab the backrest of your chair with hands for extra support.

Do five sets of five seconds on each side. Do 10 and you can have seconds on dessert.


Helly Sorilla
“A noisy, antiquated teacher
Who from her cradle talked to death,
And never before was out of breath.”

Scott LaFee is a staff writer at UC San Diego Health and the former chief science writer at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where he covered science, medicine and technology. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.