Idaho ranks 49 on the list of physicians per capita in the 2017 State Physician Workforce Data Report published by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
All but three counties in Idaho are designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas by the federal government, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare website. This means that counties in Idaho have a shortage of physicians in relation to population demands or geographical restraints.
Mary Sheridan, bureau chief of the Bureau of Rural Health and Primary Care said the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare seeks to increase educational opportunities and incentives to attract doctors to Idaho.
Sheridan said the ability for Idaho to train and attract doctors starts with thinking of education opportunities as early as middle school. This thinking will help Idaho move up on the list.
She said right now, the bureau focuses on helping graduated physicians repay student loans. However, competition from other states means repayment programs might not be enough.
“Studies have found that a majority of physicians tend to find employment within about 100 miles of where they do their residency,” Sheridan said. “So you can imagine how key that residency is for recruiting physicians.”
On March 6, the Idaho Legislature passed a bill for an increase of nearly $2 million in funding for residency incentives and added 25 new resident positions.
“I do think that Idaho is so fortunate to have very engaged stakeholders,” Sheridan said. “We have people really passionate about this issue that are willing to not only talk about it, but can take proposals to the legislature, educate the legislature about the issues and, when appropriate, seek funding to support the issues.”
This new funding aims to help keep some students at Idaho’s first medical school, Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, from leaving the state to pursue residency programs. The college will start its first classes on August 19.
“We don’t want to be educating physicians and they have to leave Idaho,” Sheridan said. “We might not get them back.”
Idaho’s efforts are part of a larger effort to increase the number of physicians in the entire United States. A May 29 press release from the Association of American Medical Colleges urged for more Graduate Medical Education funding to decrease the possibility of predicted physician shortages.
The AAMC released a 2018 projection of physician supply and demand in March, and predictions show a possible shortage of up to 121,300 physicians in the United States by 2030. The AAMC believes that this shortage can be reduced with more funding for residency programs and graduate education.
“This year’s analysis reinforces the serious threat posed by a real and significant doctor shortage,” said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch in an AAMC press release on April 11. “With the additional demand from a population that will not only continue to grow but also age considerably over the next 12 years, we must start training more doctors now to meet the needs of our patients in the future.”