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Climate good for family medicine.

But Shortages Still Ailing State

THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS for Medical Sciences continues to turn out one of the highest percentages nationwide of family doctors, and the number is climbing.

But the state still has a shortage of family practitioners.

Dr. Geoffrey Goldsmith, professor and chairman of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UAMS, estimates that about 25 of 34 family physicians the college produces annually practice in Arkansas.

"We're just not training enough, even though 25 seems like a lot," he says. "My personal opinion is we need to be graduating about 50, rather than 25, that will stay in the state."

As in many states, Arkansas' shortage of physicians is most acute in rural areas. Many rural counties have between one and three family physicians, while Newton County has the distinction of not having a single doctor.

According to a recent study by the state Health Department's Office of Rural Health, Arkansas is short by 300 family physicians. By 2000, the number is projected to exceed 335.

That is despite UAMS' reputation as a high-percentage producer of family physicians.

For 11 years, Arkansas' sole medical school has ranked in the top 10 nationally in the percentage of graduates who enter family practice residency training programs. This year, more than a quarter of UAMS graduates will go that route.

At UAMS and across the country, the number of medical students going into family medicine is on an upswing. UAMS saw a 6 percent increase; nationally, the figure increased by 16 percent.

Why the upward trend now?

American Medical News attributes the increase to impending health reforms, which are expected to give primary care a boost, and to a major recruiting campaign by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Viewed as Very Important

Goldsmith also mentions those factors, as well as UAMS' reputation in family practice training and statewide efforts to recruit family physicians.

"I think that it's very clear from a national perspective that the family physician is being viewed as a very important and essential part of any universal health care plan or any kind of managed care plan," Goldsmith says.

Although primary care physicians and the family physician, in particular, appear to have elevated stature in the eyes of health policy-makers, the salary lag for those doctors is thought to keep their numbers down.

According to the American Medical Association, general or family practice doctors earn an average annual income of $111,500, compared to a radiology specialist on the high end who makes $229,800.

Health care reforms may close that gap. If so, family care physicians may find their ranks growing.

In some parts of the country where medical specialists greatly outnumber generalists, there's even talk of specialists returning to school for retraining in primary care.

Goldsmith's definition of family medicine is certainly in sync with the prescriptions being touted to cure the health care system.

"We're unique in the fact that we take care of everyone from the new baby to grandma," he says. "We're the doctors who are the first intake of any patient with an undifferentiated problem. That is, we don't select patients by organ. We take care of the whole person."
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Health Care Update; Arkansas family doctors
Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Apr 26, 1993
Words:532
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