Meadville Tribune

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December 15, 2013

Report: Pa. docs good with patients, but more needed

MEADVILLE — A new physician workforce report from the Association of American Medical Colleges gives Pennsylvania a high ranking on the percent of doctors engaged in patient care compared to other states, but highlights problems retaining newly graduated physicians from in-state medical education programs.

According to the 2013 State Physician Workforce Data Book, Pennsylvania ranks 10th highest in percentage of physicians engaged in patient care, with 253 per 100,000 state residents. This is an improvement from 2010, where Pennsylvania ranked 11th at 247 physicians per 100,000 state residents. Pennsylvania also jumped to eighth in total number of active physicians, including those who work in research and those in administrative positions, compared to ninth in 2010.

According to the report, Pennsylvania had a total of 38,565 active physicians based upon the latest reporting data. States with the highest number of active physicians were California with 97,977; New York with 68,673; and Texas with 54,167. Pennsylvania is the sixth most populated state in the country.

Nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s physicians are female, making it 20th compared to all others. Most expect this percentage to increase over time since almost half of all new medical school graduates are women. Pennsylvania was also near the middle of the rankings (18th) in percentage of primary care physicians.

Concerns about the number of Pennsylvania’s primary care physicians have been raised as the state looks to expand access to health care across the commonwealth. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s Healthy Pennsylvania Plan includes a call to increase the number of residency positions in the state to train new primary care physicians.

When it comes to keeping new physicians, Pennsylvania ranks low — 37th in the country in retaining those completing in-state medical education through medical schools, residency slots and fellowship positions. Many leave to practice in states that have more favorable loan forgiveness programs, for example. However, given the large number of medical schools in the state, many students and trainees come to Pennsylvania to attend one of its nine medical schools and return to their home states upon graduation.

“Considering that the report indicates Pennsylvania has the fourth highest percentage of medical school students in the country, we should be concerned that our retention rate appears low,” said Bruce A. MacLeod, M.D., president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and a practicing emergency medicine physician in Pittsburgh. “For sure, the report indicates the need for those parts of Gov. Corbett’s Healthy Pennsylvania Plan aimed at attracting young physicians to stay in the state.”

Corbett’s plan proposed an increase in funding for loan forgiveness programs for young physicians willing to practice in medically underserved locations in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania finds itself in a relatively healthy situation today as far as our statewide data go,” MacLeod said. “But there are signals that new physicians are looking to practice elsewhere. Even though we’re in good shape today, we have to make sure we can replace those physicians who are retiring or planning to retire while also keeping up with health care demand — especially in light of health care expansions proposed by Gov. Corbett.”

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