Doctor shortage looming: Medical school seeks funding to increase class sizes

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Elspeth Pearce is in her fourth year at the K.U. School of Medicine. She’s planning to be a family practice doctor in a rural area.  She should have no trouble finding work.

“Well, job security is always nice,” Pearce said. “It’s nice to be in demand.”

There’s high demand as an aging population needs more care, and as millions of the currently uninsured presumably gain coverage under the health care law and seek care.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the country will be short 91,000 doctors by 2020. To have more, you have to graduate more from med schools.  The K.U. school, with campuses in Kansas City, Wichita and Salina, wants to increase class size from 211 to at least 250. But an administrator says that won’t happen without more state dollars for more faculty members and space.

“At this point, we cannot increase our class size any further without additional space.  Just can’t happen,” Dr. Glen Cox, K.U.’s Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education, said.

Cox says the Kansas City, Kan., campus needs a new health education building. It would be built at the corner of 39th and Rainbow. Legislators didn’t provide funding in the last session. Cox said he is “somewhat optimistic” for 2014.

“The legislature has responded historically in Kansas — has responded to the need for physicians,” said Cox.

He said even if the legislature provides the funding next year, it will be 2016 before the class size can increase. In the mean time, Pearce is concerned about just how busy she will be as a doctor.

“If you’re the only physician for a county or so, it can be very scary,” Pearce said.

And maybe scarier for those who need care.

One new study published in Health Affairs finds the shortage may not be as bad as feared. It found that there will be a surplus of nurse practitioners and physician assistants who can relieve doctors of some of their work.

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