Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rural hospitals deal with shortages of specialists

Many rural areas struggle with doctor shortages. Lack of specialists is also a problem. In southwestern Virginia, "rural health care is a long and winding road for many patients," Joe Dashiell writes for WDBJ-TV.

For example, Wendy Welch, the director of the Graduate Medical Education Consortium in southwestern Virginia, said, "We are facing a massive shortage of dentists and dental care. We're facing a continued dearth of endocrinology care, people who work particularly with diabetes and kidney function." Bill Jacobsen, the administrator of Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, said Franklin County is six psychiatrists short and that the 52,000-citizen region doesn't have even one full-time psychiatrist.

At the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, hospitals in Virginia and nearby states were promoting their residency programs and regions to prospective doctors. Vicky Hill, the director of physician support and recruitment support services at Wythe County Community Hospital, said Southwest Virginia is a beautiful place, ". . . so we use the beatuy and the many things that are outdoors to do, as well as the convenience of the two interstates" to encourage doctors to consider working there.

Lots of medical students graduate with more than $200,000 in student loans, and that often is a determining factor when new doctors decide where to work. Jessica Hovancik, a third year student at VCOM, said she's considering practicing in a rural area. "I'm on OB/GYN right now, and we travel 45 minutes to a place called Chase City just to see five or six patients," Havancik said. "But they're so thankful that we take the time to come out there. And it gives you a good feeling at the end of the day."

The doctor and specialist shortage will become even more of an issue if appropriate actions aren't taken.  What can be done? "Rural health care advocates would like to see debt forgiveness programs expanded and applied more evenly across rural Virginia, more nurse practitioners and physician assistants deployed in rural communities and expansion of tele-medicine to assist rural doctors and connect patients to health professionals in other areas," Dashiell writes. (Read more)

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