UI College of Medicine looks to fill the state's need for rural doctors


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Rural Iowa, although plentiful in crops and livestock, has lacked a vital need in recent years — family physicians.

The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and its students are trying to fill the state’s growing need for doctors in both rural and metropolitan areas.

“Don’t think we haven’t done work year-to year just because the demand is going up,” said Roger Tracy, the director of the UI Office of Statewide Clinical Education Programs. “It simply means the demand is outstripping our ability to close positions with new placements.”

The state of Iowa had 170 job opportunities in 2012 — up from 133 openings in 2011.

This demand means Iowa would need 170 physicians — either newly minted or relocated into Iowa — to fill the demand for doctors. According to a 2011 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges, Iowa ranks 40th nationally in doctors per 100,000 residents with 187 practicing physicians in 2010.

The Carver medical school implemented a rural program this past fall that picks four students a year to fill the growing need. If these students eventually practice in a rural community in a primary-care area for five years in Iowa, they can be refunded up to $20,000 a year for five years for their student loans.

“Four students a year is not enough to meet the health-care needs of Iowa or the nation, but we also put out a lot of students who go into primary care, so this is a start,” said Christopher Cooper, the associate dean for student affairs and curriculum in the medical school.

Gov. Terry Branstad, in an address last month, also announced a proposal for subsidizing student loans for 20 Iowa students who commit to working in rural areas for five years after graduation. His subsidy would be $2 million annually.

Only two colleges in Iowa provide physicians for the state:  Des Moines University and the UI graduate roughly 350 students combined each year.

Roughly 50 percent of the UI medical students pursue residencies in Iowa, and only 50 percent of those who stay in Iowa will practice in rural areas. Rural communities are defined as areas with populations of fewer than 10,000 people.

Soon-to-be graduates will submit their requests for residency programs Wednesday and a national institute’s algorithm will match students to programs in March.

Medical student Mary Rysavy, a Dubuque native, said she hopes to stay in Iowa but isn’t set on a particular location.

“My interest has always been in serving areas with great need and working with underserved populations,” she said. “I haven’t decided yet whether I would want to be a small town or rural community — I’m keeping my options open.”

However, fourth-year medical student Heather Kruse’s list included three programs in Iowa.

“I’m from Iowa, and I want to stay in Iowa.  I think it makes sense to learn where I’m practicing,” she said.  “I have rural connections, so I feel a pull to be a part of the communities.”

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