Hopkinsville paper examines doctor shortage, reasons for it

Albert Delaney waits for his wife Agnes in Hopkinsville.
(Photo by Kentucky New Era’s Tom Kane)

Nick Tabor of the Kentucky New Era examines Christian County’s doctor shortage, with the area averaging just one primary care physician for every 2,000 people. It’s the latest health story in the small daily newspaper, which is committed to quality health reporting.

The shortage creates problems for residents, who must either travel to another area to see a doctor or go without preventive services because there is no one to see until serious illness occurs. When that happens, that “puts an undue burden” on the local hospital’s emergency room.

The shortage is affected by the fact that “primary care physicians, which rural areas need in higher volumers than specialists, are entering the job market at alarmingly low rates,” Tabor reports. “More medical students are becoming specialists, as these jobs promise better salaries and hours.” Secondly, it is difficult to recruit doctors to rural areas. “Little old Hopkinsville is up against Boston and Chicago and all of these bigger cities,” said Teresa Bowers, Jennie Stuart Medical Center‘s physician recruitment director. “They’re not throwing darts at a map and saying, ‘I’m going to Hopkinsville.'”

The problem is not a new one. A 2007 report by the Kentucky Institute of Medicine shows there have been shortage issues for decades. “Even if all the barriers that have prevented a sufficient and well-dispersed supply of physicians were suddenly to disappear, the task of recruiting and educating an ample cohort of doctors would take years to accomplish,” it reads.

The problem is liken to worsen, however, if the federal health-reform law is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, as 30 million more Americans will have insurance to see the doctor. A recent report found medical school enrollment is up by 30 percent, but more residency placements are needed to accommodate the influx. (Read more)

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