What is a Shortage Designation?

There are several types of shortage designations:

Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) identify geographic areas, populations groups, or facilities within the United States that are experiencing a shortage of health care professionals. 

Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) and Medically Underserved Populations (MUPs) identify geographic areas and populations with a lack of access to primary care services.

Exceptional Medically Underserved Population (Exceptional MUP) identify a specific population subset that does not meet the established criteria to qualify as a Medically Underserved Population, but due to unusual circumstance do not have access to primary care services.

Governor’s Designated Secretary Certified Shortage Areas for Rural Health Clinics are areas that a state Governor or designee designates as having a shortage according to the state-established shortage plan for the establishment of a Rural Health Clinic.

Why do we use shortage designations?

The authorizing statute for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) created shortage areas to fulfill the statutory requirement that HRSA direct NHSC personnel to areas of greatest need. Due to limited federal resources, shortage designations help HRSA prioritize and focus resources on the areas of highest need.

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC), and other scholarship and loan repayment programs, increase access to primary care, dental, mental, and behavioral health services.

These program build healthy communities by providing scholarships and student loan repayment for primary care providers in the medical, dental, and behavioral health fields who agree to practice in areas of the country that have health professional shortages.

NHSC members fulfill their service requirement by working at NHSC-approved sites located in HPSAs.

How do you apply for a shortage designation?

If your community or facility would like to apply for a HPSA, you may submit data to State Primary Care Office (State PCOs).

State PCOs:

  • Conduct needs assessment in their states.
  • Determine what areas are eligible for designations.
  • Create and submit designation applications to HRSA. 


  • Reviews these HPSA applications.
  • Designates the community or facility as a HPSA, IF:
    • The application meets the designation eligibility criteria for that specific type of HPSA.

Where can you find shortage designation data?

Visit Find Shortage Areas to determine if a particular location is located within shortage area.

Learn more about the Shortage Designation Scoring Criteria.

Date Last Reviewed:  May 2020

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