Study: Residencies needed to fill AZ doctor shortage

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - In most businesses, if you find you don't have enough employees, you find more and hire them. But when it comes to hiring doctors to fix the shortage we have in Arizona, it's not nearly that simple.

Maybe the biggest reason is residencies. Once doctors finish medical school they have a residency program where they study and learn a particular specialty. They get a lot of hands-on training working with patients and other doctors. A residency usually lasts several years, and is a great predictor of where the person will ultimately become a full-fledged practicing physician.

Kim Ford works for the St. Luke's Health Initiative in Phoenix. They've studied just how important residencies are, and she says "when people practice a residency in that state they're more likely to stay in that state for the long haul. If we think about it it sort of makes sense. During their residency they may get married, they may have children, and they become rooted in that community." The St. Luke's study found that three quarters of doctors who graduate from medical school in Arizona AND do their residency in Arizona stay in the state to practice. However, only a quarter of people who graduate medical school here but then go to other states for their residencies ever come back to the desert to practice. Ford says "what we know right now is that often we're producing medical school graduates who then go on to practice in North Carolina, so we are essentially subsidizing the production of these healthcare workers only to have other communities benefit from their practice."

St. Luke's says we need over 800 new residency spots to fix our doctor shortage. And paying for these residency spots is expensive. In the last few years, because of budget problems, the state of Arizona's stopped giving any money for grants for residencies. So right now, even if someone goes to medical school in Arizona, that person's probably going elsewhere for that all important residency.

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