Shortage Of Rural Physicians
June 17, 2013

Study Highlights Critical Physician Shortage In Rural America

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Researchers from George Washington University found some disturbing trends that could lead to less access to healthcare for Americans living in rural and poor urban areas, according to a new report in the journal Academic Medicine.

In their report, the researchers from the university´s School of Public Health and Health Services said fewer and fewer medical school graduates are choosing to go into primary care — less than 25 percent — and only 5 percent have been opening practices in rural areas.

The trends point to a shortage of what is needed for adequate care of the population in general and in rural areas in particular, which are already underserved, the study authors said.

"If residency programs do not ramp up the training of these physicians, the shortage in primary care, especially in remote areas, will get worse," lead author Dr. Candice Chen, an assistant research professor of health policy at the university, said in a press release.

"The study's findings raise questions about whether federally funded graduate medical education institutions are meeting the nation's need for more primary care physicians," she added.

In the study, the researchers looked at the career choices of almost 9,000 physicians who graduated from 760 medical residency institutions between 2006 and 2008. They found that only about one in four of the physicians went to work as a primary care physician three to five years after graduation. Chen said that figure is probably overestimated since it includes physicians who are employed at hospitals.

About 200 out of the 760 medical residency institutions in the study did not produce a single rural doctor during the study period, and over 280 institutions in the study did not produce a doctor who practiced in a Federally Qualified Health Center, which tend to care for low-income patients and are often found in remote areas or poor urban neighborhoods.

About 66 million Americans live in underserved rural or urban areas, meaning that about 1 in 5 people living in the world´s largest economy don´t have access to the kind of basic care that could prevent more serious health problems.

The GWU researchers noted that federal funding for the US medical school system doesn´t take into account the growing primary care doctor shortage, adding that it is "churning out highly paid specialists who typically practice in big cities or the suburbs."

The US medical school system receives large amounts of taxpayer funds — almost $10 billion from “¯Medicare and another $3 billion from“¯Medicaid. Despite coming from programs created to support the poor or elderly, the“¯federal funds do not come with any stipulations about doctors working in underserved areas“¯of the country.

As the“¯Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare,”“¯increases demand for primary care services by adding millions of newly insured patients, many experts say large swaths of Americans are poised to experience a serious discrepancy between the supply and demand of health care services. According to a study from the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital,“¯a high ratio of primary care physicians probably won't provide care for the newly insured.