Commentary

The Mississippi solution


 

I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. William G. Wilkoff’s doubts that an increase in medical schools/students and/or foreign medical graduates is the answer to the physician shortage felt by many areas of the country (Letters From Maine, “Help Wanted,” Nov. 2019, page 19). All you have to do is look at the glut of physicians – and just about any other profession – in metropolitan areas versus rural America, and ask basic questions regarding why those doctors practice where they do. You will quickly discover that most are willing to trade the possibility of a higher salary in areas where their presence is more needed to achieve more school choices, jobs for a spouse, and likely a more favorable call schedule. Something more attractive than salary or the prospect of more “elbow room” is desired.

Here in Mississippi we may have found an answer to the problem. A few years ago our state legislature started the Mississippi Rural Health Scholarship Program that pays for recipients to attend a state-run medical school on scholarship in exchange for agreeing to practice at least 4 years in a rural area of the state (less than 20k population) following their primary care residency (family medicine, pediatrics, ob.gyn., med-peds, internal medicine, and, recently added, psychiatry). Although a recent increase in the number of pediatric residency slots at our state’s sole program will no doubt also have a positive effect to this end, such a scholarship program as the one implemented by Mississippi is the best way to compete with the various intangibles that lead people to choose bigger cities over rural areas of the state to practice their trade. Once there, many – like myself – will find that such a practice is not only a good business decision but often is a wonderful place to raise a family. Meanwhile, our own practice just added a fourth physician as a result of said Rural Health Scholarship Program, and we could not be more satisfied with the result.

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