Doctors in short supply in Gem State

Published On: Aug 28 2012 06:47:01 PM PDT
Doctors examine x-ray AP graphic

There's a critical shortage of doctors in Idaho, and there's a movement in the works to develop a medical school and attract medical residents, and someday medical students, to the Gem State.

As crews lay down the foundation for a new Kootenai Health Center building, what they're really doing is laying the foundation for new doctors.

"This is very exciting. We have been interested in this for a long time," Dr. Dick McLandress with Kootenai Health said.

Eventually it will be the new family medicine residency program, set to open in July 2014.

"It's currently predicted that in ten years we are going to be 60,000 family physicians, primary care short," McLandress said.

This new program aims to address a nationwide problem as well as trying to encourage doctors to stay local.

"About 60 to 70 percent of family medicine resident graduates stay in the immediate region, which for us would the northern ten counties you might say," McLandress said.

It's physicians the state sorely needs. Idaho has one of the worst patient to doctor ratios in the nation. There is a need for rural physicians, but practicing here can be difficult and the pay not enough.

The other problem starts before anyone is even ready to start making rounds. There is no medical school in Idaho and not enough residency opportunities.

But there are conversations going on across the state to try and change that.

"We are trying to get the major institutions, the three large universities in Idaho, to agree on co-sponsoring a medical school," Dr. Robert McFarland, president of the Idaho Medical Association, said.

In the meantime, the state board of education has approved five more spots for Idaho students in medical programs in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Those spots are specifically for students focusing on rural and underserved areas.

They've also approved funding for more residency opportunities, though the state legislature still has to approve it. These moves at the state level make the program in Coeur d'Alene all the more critical for both doctors and patients in search of some relief.

"We are always pressed to accept new patients. That is always difficult because we always have a need to practice excellent health care," McLandress said.