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More physicians needed in rural areas

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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The state of Iowa is bleeding — and there are not enough doctors to stop it.

Iowa has one of the worst physician-to-resident ratios in the nation, with neighboring states Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska all ranked higher, according to a 2011 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

With a total population of more than 3 million in 2010, there were only 172 active M.D.s and 36 active osteopathic doctors per 100,000 residents —cumulating in Iowa’s ranking as the 40th in the nation for physician supply.

The lack of Iowa physicians hurts rural areas more than urban areas. In general, people living in rural areas need more medical attention, because they tend to be older and poorer than those in urban areas, according to a report from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.

Both officials at University of Iowa and Gov. Terry Branstad have put forward proposals to salve the wound created by the problem, but action is needed immediately.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board fully supports any measure that will lead to eventually replenishing the ranks of physicians in the state and provide more care for the residents of rural communities.

Branstad, in an effort to stem the tide of a possibly atrocious loss of doctors in Iowa, proposed a series of budgetary reforms in his address last month.

He proposed to subsidize student loans — to the tune of $2 million — for 20 students studying in Iowa who commit to working in rural parts of Iowa for five years after graduation. Though rural jobs often pay less than other physician positions, Branstad also wants to spend another $2 million a year toward grants to rural hospitals to create more medical residencies in the state.

The governor is not the only one trying to make a difference in this particular area; the UI Carver College of Medicine has been trying to find a solution to the problem for many years.

“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 Carver medical school implemented a rural program this past fall. In the program, officials pick four students a year to combat the growing need of physicians in rural areas.

The plan is similar to Branstad’s in that if these students agree to practice medicine as primary-care physicians in rural communities for five years in Iowa, they can be refunded part of their tuition. The refund can be up to $20,000 a year for five years taken off their student loans.

But a problem remains. Only approximately 50 percent of the Ui medical-school graduates choose Iowa in which to pursue their residences. Further, only around 50 percent of that particular group of graduates will choose a residency in rural areas, where medical attention is needed more.

Hopefully, Iowa can stop the bleeding before it’s too late.


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