Doctor in the house? Probably not in Idaho

Doctor in the house? Probably not in Idaho

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by Mark Johnson

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on February 27, 2013 at 10:27 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 9:04 AM

BOISE -- The author of a recent media report on America's doctor shortage called Idaho the "Worst state to get sick in." Not exactly a fair statement since Idaho ranks 49th in America in the number of doctors per capita, with Mississippi coming in last.

It is something Gov. Butch Otter says must change. However, some changes won't be seen in the near future.

A St. Luke's study found that Idaho has fewer than eight pediatricians per 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 20 per 100,000.

The shortage in Idaho is only going to get worse with nearly 21 percent of Idaho doctors in their 60s or older, leaving many practices without a successor.

"One of the problems we talked about in my first term was we need to create more doctors," said Otter.

This year the governor proposed a plan to begin reversing the situation.

Part of his plan, approved by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) this week, adds five seats to the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho Medical Program (WWAMI) which provides Idaho medical students with the out-of-state tuition difference to attend the University of Washington Medical School. The five additional seats are aimed at putting doctors in Idaho's rural areas will cost the state $250,000 per year.

"I applaud the governor I think we have to do at least this, but we won't see any positive effects from that for at least seven years," said Dr. Ryan Lindsay.

Dr. Ryan Lindsay is finishing his third and final year of residency at the Baylor Medical Center in Houston and is returning home to Boise this summer to join his father, longtime Boise pediatrician Dr. Bob Lindsay at his practice.

"I hope to work by him and with him, alongside of him for the next four or five or six years," said Dr. Bob Lindsay.

What is happening at Dr. Bob Lindsay's Ada Pediatrics is not happening at many other practices around the state. Most physicians who retire or leave do not have a son coming in to pick up the patients.

In addition, the rural doctors, who leave their practice, force most patients into a road trip situation for doctor visits.

"I have a great number of my patients coming in from a 50, even 100 mile radius of Boise," said Dr. Bob Lindsay.

Which is one of the reasons JFAC also approved to "up" the funding to the Family Medical Residency Program by nearly $70,000, with the emphasis in turning out rural Idaho doctors.

"If we can get those residents to come here and practice at our hospitals and start their career here, they start a family, they buy a house, take up roots, and they stay here," said Otter. "So those who come for residencies in the state of Idaho, we retain more of those than we do the ones we actually pay to go into the WWAMI program." 

Most agree, programs like WWAMI and the Rural Doctor Incentive Program which pays new Idaho doctors who practice in rural communities $10,000 per year for up to five years, don't go far enough for a problem this big.

"The ultimate solution to this is probably that Idaho needs to start up a medical school," said Dr. Ryan Lindsay. "Everybody can see that Idaho's population has doubled since we've been in the WWAMI program, and a couple of dozen medical students that go away each year isn't enough to keep the future physicians in all parts of the state going."

A medical school in Idaho has been talked about for decades.  And, though many believe it will happen someday, that someday won't be soon.

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