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Primary Care Doctor Shortage in ME: Could it get Worse?

June 20, 2011

BANGOR, Maine - According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Maine and the rest of the U.S. will face a severe shortage of primary care physicians by the year 2020. That situation has created concern about HR 1216, a piece of federal legislation under consideration in Washington, D.C. It aims to alter funding for a program designed to boost the primary-care work force.

Ken Schmidt is the CEO of Penobscot Community Health Care (PCHC), Bangor. His group of Community Health Centers includes a teaching health center for doctors and dentists, he says, and for good reason.

"Only about 3 percent to 5 percent of physicians graduating from medical school today go into primary care. So PCHC is committed to what we call 'growing our own.'"

Medical school is expensive, he explains, and tuition costs are rising. Schmidt says most students have to pay back large loans, so many graduates choose to go into more lucrative specialty medical fields and opt for practicing in cities, where salaries are higher.

PCHC provides training and residency programs for hundreds of students through the University of New England each year. Schmidt says a primary objective is to instill a desire in them to practice medicine in rural and under-served areas. Teaching health centers such as his rely heavily on grants and federal support, he adds.

"We could not do these kinds of training programs without significant federal support."

Schmidt says the best way to help curb rising medical costs and improve health care delivery is to make sure the nation has enough primary care physicians.

Community Health Centers provide health and dental care to thousands of Maine residents, regardless of ability to pay.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - ME