Newswise — The imminent U.S. physician shortage is expected to produce a shortfall of more than 35,000 primary care physicians by 2025,1 a strain that expert, Shane Speights, D.O., fears may push underserved and rural communities, already sorely lacking physicians, over the edge.
“This worsening shortage could further inhibit the nearly 62 million Americans in rural areas from receiving necessary physician-directed medical treatment and preventative care,” says Speights, who serves as the dean for NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University (NYITCOM at A-State).
“Rural America is already facing challenges in health care, as small hospitals struggle to remain open under financial strains. Due to an existing scarcity of physicians in remote areas, it’s not uncommon for people to make the risky decision to postpone or forego necessary care, which can be life threatening for patients with illnesses as common as the flu. We must work diligently to ensure this expected deficiency in numbers of physicians doesn’t further endanger the health of our communities.”
As the shortage worsens, and practicing physicians continue to reach the age of retirement, Speights contends that it is incumbent upon medical schools to educate the next generation of physicians to help provide care for medically underserved and rural communities. This mission is already embodied by the NYITCOM campus in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a state ranked 48th in the physician shortage conundrum and which shares a border with Mississippi, ranked 50th. Those rankings provide explanation as to why health care in the Mississippi Delta Region rates among the worst in the nation.
“Over 90 percent of the health care delivered in the U.S. occurs outside of an academic medical center, and the data is clear that physicians are more likely to live and practice in the areas where they complete their training and residency,” says Speights. “Thus, more physicians must be educated in rural areas, and gain skills that enable them to provide care to remote regions, which is why every medical student at NYITCOM at A-State is required to complete a four week rotation in a rural area in addition to having the majority of their third and fourth year rotations occur in community hospitals.”
He further notes that the medical students gain additional skills not normally found in a medical school curriculum, with NYITCOM at A-State among the first U.S. medical schools to train students in the first semester or their first year to deliver care via telemedicine.
Speights also maintains that medical schools that invest in rural communities not only strengthen public health, but also economic vitality, referencing the $72 million economic impact the NYITCOM at A-State campus has had on the northeast Arkansas region.
“Of course, not every community needs or can support a medical school, but most can benefit immensely from another physician,” says Speights, referring to the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) data that denotes an average economic impact of $900,000 per year per family physician to the community in which the physician practices.
“We’re proud to serve as a model for other medical schools, and lead by providing examples of what can be offered to a rural community,” says Speights. “In establishing our campus in Jonesboro, just two years ago, the region has already seen incredible economic growth in the form of increased employment opportunities, improved health literacy and outreach, and new patronage to local businesses.”
Speights is available for interview or comment on the topic of rural health. Please contact Kim Tucker, PR Strategist at NYIT, for further information.
1 Association of American Medical Colleges. The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2015 to 2030. February 2017.