September 12, 2008

U.S. Doctor Shortage Includes Dayton

By Anthony Gottschlich Staff Writer

DAYTON -- Wanted: Primary care physician -- sixfigure salary, medical and retirement benefits and student-loan assistance available. Call (937) 586-9733, extension 3005.

Sounds like an attractive job posting, but the East Dayton Health Center, 2132 E. Third St., can't find any takers.

"We are desperately looking to hire a doctor," said Gregory Hopkins, executive director of East Dayton's parent corporation, Community Health Centers of Greater Dayton. "We have been searching since March. We're not accepting new patients at East Dayton and we're struggling to meet the needs of our current patients."

The struggle is nationwide, according to a study out today, Sept. 10, in the Journal of the American Medical Association that suggests salary disparities play a major role in the shortage of primary care physicians, those who practice family and internal medicine, pediatrics and geriatrics.

Dr. Mark Ebell, a professor at the University of Georgia, compared 2007 starting salary data for various physician specialties with the percentage of medical school graduates choosing those specialties. Among his findings:

- Family medicine had the lowest average salary ($185,740) and the lowest percentage of filled residency positions among U.S. graduates (42 percent).

- Radiologists and orthopedic surgeons, who had an average salary of more than $400,000, had the highest percentage of filled residency positions among U.S. graduates (88.7 percent and 93.8 percent respectively).

Ebell, who conducted a similar study nearly 20 years ago, also found the number of U.S. medical school graduates entering family practice residencies has dropped by 50 percent in the last decade.

The resulting shortage has been linked to longer wait times for health care, poorer health outcomes and more people turning to emergency rooms for care, where treatment is most expensive.

Ebell said one possible reform is expanded debt relief for students who choose primary care practices, particularly in underserved areas. He notes the average debt for a medical school graduate has quadrupled -- from $35,000 to $140,000 -- since his original study.

Other factors attributed to the shortage include a growing, aging population; public and private insurance reimbursement issues; the retirement of practicing physicians and the growing number of women physicians, who, on average, practice 20 percent to 25 percent less than men. "It's not just a 'poor' thing," said Dr. Gary LeRoy, medical director at East Dayton and associate dean for student affairs and admissions at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. "I defy (anyone) to go out and try to find a primary care doc."

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