Doctor Shortage Remains in Rural Vermont

By Kristen Tripodi

Published 01/30 2014 06:59PM

Updated 01/30 2014 07:11PM

BURLINGTON, Vt.- Finding a doctor can be tricky for some Vermonters. Especially when it comes to finding an adult primary care doctors in a rural area. A new study will be presented Friday at the statehouse revealing more of the problem and searching for answers.

“We've been in a position of physician shortage in certain areas of Vermont for many years,” said Tracy Dolan, Deputy Commissioner for Public Health with the Department of Health.
Those areas include rural parts of the state like Franklin, Essex, Windsor, and Bennington counties.
 Dolan says it's a complex problem.

“It’s something that we are struggling with, there’s no magic bullet on this,” said Dolan.
The issues are many.
The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the U.S. will see a shortage of more than 91 thousand physicians by 2020.
So Vermont has to compete with other states to entice people to work here.

UVM professor, Dr. Charles MacLean says the school encourages its students to stay local to practice after graduation.

“When we are selecting students for admission to the College of Medicine we do take into account to some degree, where they are from and where they are likely to practice in the long run,” said Dr. MacLean.

Then there's the issue of capacity- 2/3 of internal medicine physicians and nearly half of primary care doctors in Vermont limited or closed their practice to new patients in 2013.
Although he only practices part time, Dr. MacLean says he's among that statistic.

“I have not taken a new patient in my practice for probably more than a decade,” said MacLean.

And while it may take weeks or even months to see a primary care physician now it might get worse before it gets better.

“We do know with the Affordable Care Act we may get more people coming in who have insurance for the first time which is very exciting. But we really do need a place for them to go,” said Dolan.

So as far as a solution Dolan points to tuition reimbursement programs to entice doctors to stay and federally funded clinics that have opened in some of the areas in greatest need for more health care.

Dolan says she hopes the doctors themselves will see a need, and start choosing to serve some of the more rural areas.
A governor appointed task force is also studying the workforce to figure out ways to draw people in many fields to live and work in Vermont.

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