Thursday, October 10, 2019

At Kansas medical school meant to produce rural doctors, only three of eight grads went to the most rural areas

In 2011, the University of Kansas opened a small medical school in Salina to produce doctors willing to serve in rural areas. But the program isn't working exactly as planned, judging by their choices. "Of the eight graduates, just three chose to go where the shortages are most evident. Two went to small cities with populations of fewer than 50,000," and three went to Topeka and Wichita, Lauren Weber reports for Kaiser Health News.

The graduates' choices show how difficult it can be to recruit doctors to rural areas. "But the mission is critical: About two-thirds of the primary care health-professional shortage areas designated by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration in June were in rural or partially rural areas," Weber reports.

The situation is getting worse; more Baby Boomer doctors in rural areas are reaching retirement age, and there aren't enough younger doctors willing to replace them. "By 2030, the New England Journal of Medicine predicts, nearly a quarter fewer rural physicians will be practicing medicine than today. Over half of rural doctors were at least 50 years old in 2017," Weber reports.

Many medical schools warn students not to practice in rural areas, saying they'll be overworked and underpaid. "Only 40 out of the nation’s more than 180 medical schools offer a rural track," Weber reports. The federal government has "recently allocated $20 million in grants to help create 27 rural residency programs — programs where newly minted doctors go for practical training before they can be fully licensed. That’s a big jump from the 92 programs now active."

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