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Doctor shortage: Fewer students choose family medicine

6:25 AM, Apr 15, 2010   |    comments
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Experts are saying there is already a shortage of physicians in primary-care fields and in rural areas. They predict that once health reform mandates kick in by 2014, the shortages will get even worse because more will people will have insurance coverage and will be looking for physicians.

Although there are many reasons behind the shortage, one of them is not having enough doctors that graduate from medical schools.

Medical schools in Colorado, including the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine, have programs in place that encourage students to get into primary-care medicine. That means specializing in pediatrics, internal medicine, family practice and OB-GYN. Part of the reason students are hesitant to enter these fields is because the income for these types of doctors is well below their counterparts specializing in other areas of medicine.

With mounting medical school loans to pay for as they try to start a career and family, most new graduates see that low pay as a heavy burden.

Sarah Recktenwall-Work, a first-year medical student at CU, says she is already thinking about it, even though she has just begun medical school.

"There's a significant financial burden for at least the majority of students that enter. I know that myself - I'm an in-state student, so it's cheaper for me to go to CU, which was a primary decider why I came to this school, but I'll still be leaving school with a six-figure debt," she said.

This shortage will affect some populations more than others.

"In particular, when you have no insurance and you're going to a clinic where people may be donating their time or there may be limited providers. That may mean waiting two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, to have an appointment. It may mean that you have an emergency or something that's more urgent that you don't get care," Dr. Chris Nyquist with the CU School of Medicine said.

In order to help students with this financial burden and with the tough decision of what field of medicine to go into, medical schools like CU have started what they call pipeline programs that allow promising high school students direct admission to medical school after college. They are using this program and others to help students with their debt as well.

"I think with some of the health care reform, that's one of the goals we have - to help those folks pay for their medical education and go to the places that need them," Nyquist said.

It is a goal that could enable more of them to become the kind of doctors the public will need more of in the years to come.

In 2008, the CU School of Medicine only graduated 132 students. They have bumped up their numbers of medical students and a new medical school, Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine, has also opened up in Colorado.

They will graduate their first class in two years.

Although that means there will still be a shortage of what is needed, doctor-wise, both these steps will hopefully help get more doctors into areas they are most needed.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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