U.S. Physician Shortage to Impact Rural, Poor Urban Areas

By:  Brian Koenig
06/19/2013
       
U.S. Physician Shortage to Impact Rural, Poor Urban Areas

Despite already widespread shortages of U.S. primary care doctors, less than 25 percent of new physicians are entering the primary care field, and less than five percent head to rural areas.

Despite already widespread shortages of U.S. primary care doctors, less than 25 percent of new physicians are entering the primary care field, while a small fraction, only 4.8 percent, of new doctors are practicing in rural areas. These findings come from a study by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), and were in a report published in the “Ahead-of-Print” section in Academic Medicine.

The report suggests that the country’s availability of primary care doctors will continue to wane, furthering the damage to rural and struggling urban areas where medical care has already become sparse. “If residency programs do not ramp up the training of these physicians the shortage in primary care, especially in remote areas, will get worse,” asserted Candice Chen, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and an Assistant Research Professor of Health Policy at SPHHS. “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.”

From 2006 to 2008, Chen and her colleagues analyzed the career paths of 8,977 doctors who had graduated from 759 residency locations, hoping to find where the physicians practiced three to five years after graduation. Overall, a mere 25 percent of the doctors worked as primary care physicians, although this figure includes graduates who work in hospitals, and not those who have developed their own practices.

Further, the study found that 198 out of 759 residency sites produced not a single rural physician from this three-year period, while another 283 institutions produced no physicians practicing in healthcare clinics that offer care generally to low-income patients — often found in poor or remote urban areas. “About 66 million people in the United States live in rural areas or urban neighborhoods that have too few primary care physicians or access to primary care in clinics,” said Chen. “That’s about one in five Americans who lack adequate access to this kind of essential care and might develop more serious health conditions as a result.”

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