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Oklahoma initiative to combat rural doctor shortage makes strides

by Silas Allen Modified: December 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm •  Published: December 6, 2012

— An initiative designed to combat a shortage of doctors in rural Oklahoma took its first step toward that goal Wednesday.

Officials from McAlester Regional Health Center and Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine announced the launch of two new residency programs at the hospital.

The programs are the first of their kind to be created under the Oklahoma Hospital Residency Training Program Act, which provides $3.08 million to establish doctor residency programs at hospitals in rural and underserved areas around the state. Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill into law in June.

The hospital plans to establish a residency program in internal medicine and another in family medicine, said Howard Barnett, president of the Tulsa-based OSU Center for Health Sciences. Each of those programs would include nine residency openings — three each for first-year, second-year and third-year students.

Ranked at 48th in U.S.

State health and higher education officials hope the program will help the state combat a worsening doctor shortage, especially in rural parts of the state.

That shortage was listed as one of the main reasons for Oklahoma's poor performance in a recent state-by-state public health ranking. The 2011 edition of America's Health Rankings places Oklahoma at No. 48, two spots lower than the previous year. Only Mississippi and Louisiana fell lower than Oklahoma in the rankings, which are released annually by the United Health Foundation.

The rankings cite a high prevalence of smoking and obesity, limited availability of primary care doctors and low use of prenatal care in the state.

Additionally, a New England Journal of Medicine article ranks Oklahoma as the state that faces the most challenges in meeting medical needs. That ranking is based on the ratio of Medicaid expansion to primary care capacity.

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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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