The deepening shortage of primary care physicians in rural Kansas should be tackled with increased government and public support for undergraduate and graduate medical school education programs, a state task force said Friday.
The task force, which met three times during the year, concluded the state had an abundance of qualified applicants at the University of Kansas Medical Center and opportunity existed for development of an osteopathic medical school in Kansas. Doctors of osteopathic medicine have to meet training standards equivalent to that of medical doctors, but osteopathic graduates tend to focus on primary care.
The report from the task force led by the Kansas Farm Bureau’s chief executive says federal funds ought to be tapped to establish new medical residency programs at rural hospitals.
“Our young people are the best resource we have, and maximizing that resource means offering them educational options and a reason to stay and provide health care for their communities,” said Gov. Sam Brownback.
The KU School of Medicine is the state’s lone medical school with the main campus in Kansas City, Kan., and satellite campuses in Wichita and Salina.
Brownback has expressed skepticism about expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, which expansion advocates believe would inject financial resources into rural hospitals and support recruitment of health providers to underserved areas.
The task force concluded 92 of 105 counties in Kansas were partially or wholly undeserved. To fill the void, rural parts of Kansas would need to add 83 new primary care physicians annually. The shortage of health providers is expected to grow, the task force said. The state ranks 23rd in the nation in terms of the age of its physician workforce — 28.9 percent are over the age of 60.
In January, Brownback formed the task force to consider his goal of attracting a private osteopathy school to Kansas. He said the long-term sustainability of communities, especially those in rural areas, depended on access to local health care.
“The task force believes there is great opportunity to think strategically about the future of medical education and health care delivery,” said Terry Holdren, chief executive of the Kansas Farm Bureau and task force chairman. “Declining populations and advances in technology demand that we plan differently for the future.”