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New Med Schools Aim to Cure Arkansas' Doctor Shortage

Arkansas plans to triple the number of medical-school graduates in the next few years to help reduce a shortage of doctors in the state. (DmitriKotin/iStockphoto)
Arkansas plans to triple the number of medical-school graduates in the next few years to help reduce a shortage of doctors in the state. (DmitriKotin/iStockphoto)
October 14, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Public health officials say they are making progress in reducing a chronic doctor shortage in Arkansas, particularly in rural counties. And the need is great: Arkansas currently has the lowest ratio of physicians per capita and its population is ranked among the unhealthiest in the country.

Rebecca Brosius, director of the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, said the state's single medical school has not been able to keep up with filling a growing number of vacancies, particularly outside of urban areas.

"What we have seen is an advanced aging of our practitioners in rural communities," she said. "As they are aging, they are retiring, lessening their practice or closing their practice. So, that leaves a gap."

Brosius said the state has instituted several programs to cure the shortage of medical personnel, but the most promising development has been the opening of two new medical schools.

Now, in addition to the University of Arkansas College of Medicine in Little Rock, the New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine campus has recently opened in Jonesboro. And Brosius said the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith is set to begin teaching its first class next year.

"Expansion of the nurse practitioner program and the physician assistants program are helping some, but that's not meeting all the needs," she explained. "So, that led to the opening of the two new osteopathic medicine schools, in essence tripling the number of providers that will be graduating."

She said the state's goal is to convince new doctors to practice in rural communities, and to keep them there.

"We are also working with the National Health Service Corps to increase the number of participants within some of their programs," she added. "Certain identified sites can qualify for practitioners to have loan repayment if they agree to a certain number of years of service in that rural community."

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR