Wisconsin may find in its rural and inner-city grade schools the medical students it needs to alleviate its current and projected future shortage of physicians in underserved areas of the state.
A joint study by the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Hospital Association released last week concludes a shortage of pri-mary-care physicians in rural Wisconsin and in inner-city Milwaukee already exists. The state is a tough sell for recruiting non-primary-care physicians, general surgeons and radiologists, who are in critically short supply in rural communities.
One possible remedy is to start early in identifying and encouraging students who might want to practice medicine who are now attending rural schools, said Paul Wertsch, M.D., president of the society. The idea is that people from rural areas are more likely to return to familiar surroundings and locate their practices near where they have undergone residency training, Wertsch said.
"We really need to be looking at schools all the way down to kindergarten and grade three," said Wertsch, a family physician and founder, past president and board member of the
10-physician Wildwood Family Clinic in Madison. "Reading skills at age 8 correlate very highly with how well you do in medical school."
Physicians have been doing a poor job selling the joys of their profession, and that needs to be reversed as part of a state's physician-retention program, Wertsch said.
While the demand for primary-care physician services is expected to grow 13.5% by 2015, the report said, the supply of physicians from Wisconsin's two medical schools, flat for at least a decade, will not keep pace.
At 184 physicians per 100,000 residents, Wisconsin ranks 26th among the states, but the unequal distribution of doctors throughout the state and the age of the current physician population make shortages a reality today and more likely in the future. One stumbling block healthcare leaders will face in redirecting the flow of doctors to rural areas is maintaining the flow of trained physicians through the state's residency programs, which face a massive cutback this year because of belt-tightening at the state level.
Before the end of the year, the medical society and the hospital association plan to put together a task force to address the physician shortage.