Shortage of primary care doctors. So, what's the solution? - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Shortage of primary care doctors. So, what's the solution?

By Philippe Djegal - email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - There is a shortage of primary care physicians in Texas especially in rural, inner-city and under served areas. The average medical school student graduates with more than $160,000 of debt and living in small towns doesn't pay well.

Dr. Christine Powell, M.D. who works at Trinity Mother Frances says she's one of the lucky one's, getting out of med school only $30,000 in debt.

"Once you take college you don't money," said Powell. "Medical school you don't make money. Residency you don't make money."

Because of the large debts that comes with a medical education, practicing medicine in low income counties is leading to a shortage of physicians in East Texas; particularly in primary care.

"In Jefferson, which is one of the 200 poorest counties in the nation, we've been looking for a physician for two years," said Wanda Kennel with East Texas Border Health Clinic.

Three years ago, Troy Carlyle's life changed when learned he was HIV positive. Money was tight so he turned to community health clinics of northeast Texas.

"I was turned away for healthcare in other places," said Carlyle. "This clinic took me in and literally saved my life."

More than half of Texas' counties need more primary care physicians. 114 counties do not meet the national standard of one physician for every 3,500 people."

Health officials say the solution could be State House Bill 2154. It calls for an $.12 tax increase on smokeless tobacco over the next four years. That tax revenue would then set up a loan repayment program to help primary care physicians pay off their loans. However, State Senator Kevin Eltife tells us time to pass the bill is fading fast.

"I think it's a good bill, and I'm supportive of it" said Eltife. "But, you know, there's 13 days left in session and when you get a bill here in the House or Senate with 13 days left, it has to go through a process."

And after the June 1st deadline, it will be two years before the Texas legislature meets again, meaning supporters of the bill have to act fast. Still, doctors say this may be how to fix this health care shortage.

In the U.S., the number of medical graduates has decreased by almost 50 percent in the last ten years. That's according to the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.

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