Alabama medical community searching for workforce shortage solutions
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama’s medical community is working to find solutions to the state’s growing workforce shortage.
“The real problem comes down to access to care,” said Dr. Marc J. Kahn, dean of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “It takes too long to see a doctor. It takes too long to see a specialist. It takes to long to see a primary care provider.”
Kahn was among a list of speakers invited to share ideas at a new medical conference in downtown Montgomery Thursday. The University of Alabama School of Medicine Montgomery Regional Campus hosted the event, which brought a group of Alabama physicians and medical students together to discuss health care disparities and ways to improve workforce shortages.
Health experts say the issue boils down to not having enough doctors to meet the demand. They say the physician workforce has gotten older and doctors are retiring. Some are even leaving the business early.
“Doctors are leaving the profession a little bit quicker because things like burnout and increasing financial pressures,” said Dr. Louis Lambiase, dean of the Montgomery Regional Medical Campus at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.
Medical professionals say the biggest solution to the problem is to expand residency training programs for physicians.
“We’re doing a pretty good job opening up new medical school classes, but we need a place to turn the new doctors into practicing physicians,” Lambiase said.
“People tend to stay where they last trained so we need to expand that pipeline if we’re going to increase our supply of physicians,” Kahn said.
Montgomery’s UAB regional campus has only two residency programs, which is fewer than other similar-sized communities.
The campus has plans to add another residency soon with a focus on psychiatry, but they want more programs focused on pediatrics, surgery and OB-GYN. Of course, none of it can be done without funding.
“It cost $160,000 per year to educate a resident, so if you think about it, if there are 12 residents in a psychiatry residency, that’s about $1.1 million,” Lambiase said.
Health experts said it’s unlikely the federal government will increase funding for these programs, which is why they are hoping for additional support on the state level.
Doctors say everyone in the community can help with the ongoing workforce shortage. One way is to advocate for solutions by pressing elected officials about the importance of funding and health care access. Another way is to support hospitals that have training and teaching programs.
Doctors discussed other topics at the inaugural event, like expanding Medicaid with the closure of a number of rural hospitals, and creating better incentives to encourage people to join the health care field.
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