Examining Primary Physician Shortage In Rural Minnesota

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

MinnPost.com last week examined the shortage of primary care physicians and other health professionals in rural areas of Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Health in 2007 released a report that found several factors contribute to the need for PCPs in rural areas of the state, including an aging population and a high number of residents who live alone. Forty-six percent of the most rural counties have 13% of the state's population, but just 5% of the state's practicing physicians.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 2% of medical students say they will seek careers in primary care. Among the reasons the students gave for seeking careers in specialized medicine were prospective pay issues, paperwork and dealing with chronic patients.


Michelle Juntunen, director of medical advancement at the University of Minnesota Medical School-Duluth Campus, said travel also is an issue for patients in rural areas, and, as a result, people who need to see a physician "might not see one for quite some time." MinnPost.com reports, "Because of this, the health care crisis can also be seen as an economic crisis" because a lack of preventive health care "can lead to more expensive medical problems down the road."

As part of Minnesota's Rural Health Care Initiative, medical students who commit to practicing medicine in rural areas for three years can receive up to $64,000 over four years to pay off medical school loans. In addition, UMD tries to recruit medical school applicants from rural communities and, as part of their training, students spend three days in the rural areas working in clinics and hospitals.

To address the shortage of mental health professionals, UMD is developing a "tele-mental" program that allows patients to video conference with a psychologist from their computer (Conlan, MinnPost.com, 12/5).

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