Rural Doctor Shortage

A new report from U.S. News shares that rural communities have access to fewer doctors, specialists, and healthcare workers. A combination of factors like the economy, cultural divides, and the isolation of living in remote areas have a huge impact on the health of rural Americans, and it’s a crisis with no end in sight. A shortage of medical workers is detrimental to the care of those in rural areas, and incentives are needed to pursue young doctors to join a rural practice.

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U.S. News shares:

“Nearly the entire state is short on primary care physicians, with only a handful of counties that have an acceptable doctor-to-population ratio, says Dr. William Curry, associate dean for rural programs and primary care at the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Medicine.

‘Why does this matter?’ Curry asks. ‘Well, we know if there's access to good primary care, then clinical outcomes are better,’ people live longer and the state's overall health rises as a result. In turn, health insurance premiums are lower for everyone.

‘Access to good primary care,’ Curry says, ‘is highly valuable.’”

Rural states in the Southeast have a hard time wooing doctors away from lucrative specialties and suburban pay hikes. The article focuses on Alabama, where the shortage is calling for solutions through the local universities.

U.S. News reports:

“[Doctors] tend to migrate from medical schools directly to cities, where family practice physicians can earn upwards of $170,000 in Alabama and more quickly pay off medical school debt, which hovers at a median of nearly $200,000 per student. The urban draw is hard to ignore, since more than 80 percent of medical students graduate with outstanding student loans of at least six figures.

Curry agrees: Generally speaking, he says, ‘primary care physicians aren't paid as well and a medical school student making a career choice knows that. Also, why do you want to be a primary care physician? You're going to work hard and get paid less. You can be a gastroenterologist or a surgeon and work less and make more money.’

… In May, University of Alabama at Birmingham also announced that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama had donated $3.6 million ‘to train a total of 60 primary care physicians over five years’ – doctors who will ‘return to practice in a county with a primary care shortage after they complete their residencies.’

The funds ‘will pay the tuition of 12 third- and fourth-year students each year,’ according to a press release.’

Because the problem is so intractable – most analysts say it stems from America's economic pivot from an agrarian to an industrial society – Curry says encouraging young people to serve in the countryside is crucial, particularly those who grew up in rural areas.”

On a national level, the article notes that the government and the nation's medical schools need to work hand in hand to boost the number of medical school students. If medical colleges can help by beefing up allotted class sizes, then lawmakers can do more to lower costs through federal subsidies. The article further shares that while there are bills before Congress that aim to alleviate the issue, action on them has been anything but swift, even as the problem continues to grow.

For the complete story, visit U.S. News.

Should medical students move to rural areas, even for a short time, to fill this gap? What is the long-term solution? Let us know in the comments or join us on our Facebook page.

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