California Offering Free Medical School To Curb Doctor Shortage

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April V. Taylor

It is no secret that America’s aging population is placing further strain on an already taxed healthcare system that is facing a debilitating shortage of doctors. California is one state that is taking a proactive approach to the state’s physician shortage by offering full scholarships to medical students who agree to practice primary care in the surrounding community for at least five years following their graduation.

According to observers, only 16 of California’s 58 counties have enough physicians to meet federal government recommendations. When this is coupled with the fact that the Association of American Medical Colleges report that almost a third of California’s doctors are getting close to retirement age, the state’s circumstances appear to be all the more desperate.

Observers also point out that the already existing shortage could be exacerbated by the Affordable Care Act because of the millions of residents who will now be covered by insurance and therefore be able to see a doctor when they could not prior to the legislation’s implementation. Some 300,000 residents in the UC-Riverside community alone are expected to gain healthcare coverage under ACA.

In an effort to directly address the problem, the scholarships will only go to medical school students who choose to study primary care rather than more lucrative specialty fields. Despite this directed approach, UC-Riverside Medical School dean Ricard Olds reports that the state will most likely face a shortage of 5,000 to 6,000 within the next decade “no matter what anyone does.” This is due in large part to the fact that so many physicians will be retiring.

California has particularly struggled with having enough doctors who are willing to treat low-income patients. Many states have used similar scholarship programs to help fill teacher shortages at lower-income schools by offering scholarships and student loan repayment to teachers in exchange for them working at at-risk schools.While it will take much more than just free medical school to help close the gap between the number of physicians available and the number of physicians that are needed, it is at least a step in the right direction.

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