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Measure to add Oklahoma medical residencies is signed into law

Oklahoma's Gov. Mary Fallin says the bill will help the state keep physicians in the most-needed areas. She also signed a bill that transfers about $140 million remaining in a special research fund to the state higher education budget to match a backlog of privately funded endowed chairs.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: June 7, 2012

The Economic Development Generating Excellence fund, formed in 2007 to fund research companies, had about $160 million in its account. Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget Committee, said about $12 million is set aside for projects funded earlier. An estimated $7.2 million in interest earnings will be transferred into a quick-action closing fund that the governor may give to businesses or industries looking to locate or expand in Oklahoma; legislators approved the fund last year, but didn't fund it.

Howard Barnett, president of OSU-Tulsa and OSU Center for Health Sciences, said details are still being worked out how the residency program will be implemented. Residency programs run three and four years.

It will take about a year for the program to start, he said. Residency programs have to get accredited; the residency program is for hospitals that don't have existing residency programs, so it's likely most of the residencies will be at rural hospitals.

It's estimated the program will provide funding for 40 residencies a year, he said. Each residency is expected to cost about $75,000.

“We think that's about four or five hospitals a year,” he said.

Barnett said young doctors tend to stay within 100 miles of the area where they completed their residency program; at OSU, 80 percent of the medical students who attend medical school and then serve a residency in Oklahoma stay in the state.

Fallin said the rural doctor shortage is affecting the state's health. A 2011 study put Oklahoma at 48, two spots lower than the previous year's rankings; limited availability of primary care doctors is a key factor.

Barnett said Oklahoma consistently rates among the highest in the nation in health problems and among the lowest in doctors per capita. Oklahoma ranks last in the ratio of primary care doctors per population.

Boren said his school is putting emphasis on recruiting medical students interested in working in rural Oklahoma or in underserved parts of Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

People living in rural or underserved areas are at risk of living 17 fewer years than those in areas where basic and specialty medical care is readily available, he said.