As medical programs strive to crank out rural physicians, the shortage grows

With 80 percent of the state designated as a health profession shortage area, Missouri is just one part of a troubling national pattern of insufficient health care in rural counties. Paired with a rising shortage in primary care physicians, the needs of rural residents across the state are falling by the wayside.

According to a 2014 special report by the Missouri Hospital Association, 1 in 5 Missouri residents has limited access to primary medical care, dental or mental health providers. Another report showed that rural Missouri residents also had higher cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease rates compared to metropolitan residents.

Missouri has several statewide programs targeted at producing more physicians that will practice in rural, underserved areas. Programs such as the Primary Care Resource Initiative or PRIMO, recently-passed legislation that creates an assistant physician work force and telehealth all target the issue.

The state also enacted a law in 2014 creating an alternative for physicians who didn’t land a residency after graduating from medical school. Instead, the graduate becomes an assistant physician, working in collaboration with a licensed physician. The assistant physician must practice in an underserved area.

The University of Missouri says it hopes to enroll 150 students this year in its primary care program. If the numbers follow the national trend, that would be a total of 84 physicians per graduating class who would go into primary care around the state.

Read more: Columbia Missourian


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