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Shortage Of Family Doctors

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Shortage Of Family Doctors

Less medical graduates are choosing to become family doctors

Chatham, N.Y., a small town nestled in the rural northern part of the state, has been home to Dr. Joseph Lalka’s family practice for 26 years, accommodating for at least 3,000 patients. Lalka, 54, recently announced that he could no longer afford to maintain the family practice and that he must close.

 Shortage Of Family DoctorsThis announcement came as a shock to his many patients who were left stunned and angry at the system that forced the practice to shut it doors for good. Lalka, 54, says that with an income under $60,000 last year, and little opportunity to expand his practice, he no longer is able to make ends meet.

“I am giving up my practice, the love of my life,”

The office closed on Oct. 11. Now Lalka will work for a company that assigns doctors to temporary work.

Five years ago, Lalka paid $8,000 for malpractice insurance. Today he pays $18,900, which is still relatively low compared to many doctors and specialists but a big expense when matched against shrinking Medicare reimbursements that often cover only 60 percent of the cost of treating a patient.

With more money in practicing specialized medicine fewer medical school graduates want to become family physicians. Last year only 8 percent of U.S. medical school graduates chose to become family physicians, which is half the number that made the same choice in the early 1990′s. Former AAFP president, Dr. Rick Kellerman said in a telephone interview.

“We are facing a crisis in the shortage of family physicians,”

Specialists make three to four times the income of family physicians; this attracts the bulk of graduates.

According to a four-year study of 99.9 percent of the nation’s counties done by Johns Hopkins University, a greater ratio of primary care or family doctors to the population makes for lower death rates. A ratio of 41:6 is optimal; however the ratio is currently just 31:2.

Experts such as the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the National Association of Community Health Centers, agree that a primary care doctor should be the cornerstone of our health system. Much heart disease and type two diabetes could be prevented by family physicians who recommend lifestyle changes and proper diet and exercise prior to the onset of the diseases.

Despite the far reaching consequences for the nation, the number of family doctors is still declining and many doctors like Lalka have or are being forced to close their family practice.

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