Hometown Health Care: Why doctors are becoming few and far between in the Ozarks

Published: Jun. 30, 2016 at 5:06 PM CDT
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It's a problem that's expected to get worse. If you've ever not been able to see your doctor ... you're not alone. Experts say primary care doctors are maxed out on patients. There's a new program in the Ozarks that aims to meet the health care demand.

You could say Dr. Angie Whitesell really knows her patients. Mercy Family Medicine in Lockwood is a place where everyone knows your name.

"I tell my front desk staff, I want them to think about greeting all patients like Norm off of Cheers," said Dr. Whitesell.

There's no place like home. Dr. Whitsell wanted to move back to Lockwood, but she wasn't sure about the path.

She enrolled in the Rural Track program at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. The goal is to eliminate primary care deserts .... which are remote areas where health care services are limited.

It's estimated by 2025, the U.S. will be short ninety thousand doctors. Primary care doctors have never had this much demand in history that's because of modern medicine.

"There are more people with chronic illnesses who are living for longer periods of time," said Dr. Andrew Evans, Associate Dean of MU School of Medicine.

A growing, aging and insured population means medical schools cannot graduate doctors fast enough. Evans is in charge of the new Springfield location for University of Missouri School of Medicine.

"All we can do is produce them as fast as we can ... produce them well. There's a significant lag time and we are behind," he said.

MU is leading the way to train more doctors ... especially in rural areas.

Thanks to Springfield location, 32 additional doctors will graduate each year starting in 2021.

"So it's a significant dent toward reducing the physician shortage and a point in the future. There's a training lag. If we start medical students now ... there's four years of medical school, then residency training before they come out to the market place," said Evans.

This follows the recommendation by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Leaders asked schools to increase class sizes by thirty percent.

Primary care doctors must be a mini-expert on every ailment. The pay doesn't compare to a specialized doctor. That's why it's hard to push medical students to pursue primary care. However, primary care doctors can graduate with less debt because of PreMO and other programs.

"I think students sometimes in rural communities don't realize you have the ability to pursue medicine and you should go for it," said Dr. Whitesell.