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Are there enough doctors in the house?

by Heather Mayer, DOTmed News Reporter | September 10, 2010

HHS stepped in to try to make the primary care atmosphere a more attractive place to be for existing physicians as well as those studying medicine. In June, the department allocated $250 million to increase and strengthen the primary care workforce, which is expected to have a shortage of 21,000 physicians in 2015, according to AAMC.

The funds are expected to support training and development of more than 16,000 new primary care providers over the next five years.

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“This critical investment will help alleviate the current shortage of primary health care providers including physicians, physician assistants and nurses," said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) in a statement. “Increasing the number of primary care professionals will allow us to place an increased emphasis on preventive care and wellness.”

Salsberg points out that there isn’t a quick fix to the problem, but government programs and funding can help the situation in the short term. He says there is legislation to increase Medicare fees for primary care physicians. This would be welcomed with open arms, especially because once the baby boomer population hits retirement, it will turn to Medicare for health care coverage.

Dangling the carrot
Not only do doctors-in-training have to dedicate nearly a decade to post-grad studies, it costs a pretty penny as well. According to AAMC, the average education debt of 2009 graduates is $156,456.

In order to make the thought of applying to med school less intimidating, there are programs in place to dull the financial blow and to attract a diverse group of applicants. A section of the health care law provides grants to offer, among other things, financial assistance to trainees and faculty. Funding for 2010 is set at $125 million, and this amount may be needed for 2011 to 2014.

“Students and residents need help identifying funding sources and managing financial issues,” said AMA’s Wilson. “Congress must lift the cap on government-funded medical residency training slots so that all future medical students can finish their training and become full-fledged physicians.”

And in an effort to attract nurses to the scene, the law increases the total loan amount for clinic nursing programs to $17,000.

The AHA, in a letter to Congress, asked for an increase in funding for Nursing Workforce Development Programs — the primary source of federal funding for nursing education. The programs are currently funded at $244 million, and the nursing organization has requested to receive $267.3 million.