Oklahoma initiative to combat rural doctor shortage makes strides

by Silas Allen Modified: December 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm •  Published: December 6, 2012
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According to the article, Oklahoma is expected to see a large expansion in the Medicaid population as the federal health care law takes effect. But Oklahoma doesn't have the primary care capacity to deal with those newly insured patients. Without outside efforts, the demand for medical care could outstrip the supply of providers in the state.

Too few residencies

A lack of residency slots around Oklahoma has contributed to that problem, Barnett said. Oklahoma's two medical schools — OSU's Center of Health Sciences and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center — produce plenty of young doctors, he said. But because of a shortage of residency slots around the state, they're often forced to look elsewhere to do their residencies.

Young doctors tend to stay in the geographic areas where they do their residencies, Barnett said, so even as Oklahoma faces a critical shortage of health care workers, its medical schools have been sending doctors to practice in other states.

“Oklahoma does not have enough residency slots to go around,” he said.

Eventually, Barnett said, he'd like to see the program establish about 250-300 residency openings at hospitals across the state. That total would allow about 100 new doctors to go to work in rural Oklahoma per year.

Even with that total, Barnett said, it's unlikely that Oklahoma will reach the national average in terms of doctors per capita. But an influx of 100 new doctors per year over 15 years or so will make a big difference in access to health care in those areas.

“You've got to start somewhere,” Barnett said.

“We're starting in McAlester.”

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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