News flash: a study has recently been released by the George Washington University's School of Public Health and the findings are that medical schools across the US are producing less primary care physicians, which ultimately hits rural areas especially hard. Really? Welcome to our world and, in the case of most rural hospitals and health systems, the challenges don't stop at primary care.
GI docs are at a premium nationwide, with hundreds of openings and few physicians to fill them. We are located in a rural area but have to compete on a national level to attract and retain physicians. From time to time, I get a letter from a patient or a patient's family member telling me that I need to recruit a gastroenterologist to the community due to our sporadic coverage during the week. They are right; we do need to recruit a GI doc, preferably two, but it is very difficult. This time last year, we had three GI docs in the community: one was terminated for cause; one is near retirement and will help out when he can; the third offers little help since he has moved his outpatient practice out of the hospital and does very little inpatient work. We are once again offering anyone who identifies and assists us in successfully delivering a viable GI doc, $10,000. Desperate times require desperate measures.
Back to primary care, one thing that Maryland has done extremely well and leads the nation in their progressiveness is that Nurse Practitioners can work independently of a physician. This has greatly helped in primary care recruitment and coverage. Our own Nancy Adams, SVP and COO/CNE, who also serves as the President of the Maryland Board of Nursing, has had a leadership role in making this happen. So, the shortage of primary care docs is no surprise to us; it has been a challenge for years. You just have to figure out how to work through this issue with creative approaches and a little help from our friends.