Wisconsin faces physician shortage - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Wisconsin faces physician shortage

by Meg Bonacorsi

WAUSAU (WAOW) -- These days, when you hear about a medical crisis it usually refers to the cost of health care.  But experts say a growing physician shortage in Wisconsin is another huge problem. 

Right now the state could use about 700 more doctors, especially in Milwaukee and rural areas.  And experts say if we don't do something, that number will only get bigger.

Practicing family medicine in Edgar, Dr. Thomas Stoffel can see the effects of the physician shortage first hand and says primary care doctors are especially in high demand.  Dr. Stoffel thinks less people are entering the field because medical schools encourage people to practice specialties.  Not to mention specialists also earn larger paychecks.

"When you look at the nuts and bolts of it, you can probably break it down to economics. People in primary care make less money," Dr. Stoffel says.

Another problem? The senior citizen population, which requires more care, is growing.  At the same time a third of doctors are 55 or older and plan on retiring or scaling back on work in the near future.

Dr. Charles Shabino with the Wisconsin Hospital Association says, "We may have a shortage as high as 50% less physicians in the state than we need in the year 2030."

That means people will wait longer to see a doctor, and they could end up spending more money.

Terri Richards, the executive vice president of St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, says, "When a patient doesn't have a primary care physician in their community what they end up doing is seeking care from an emergency department and the emergency department is a much more expensive option."

Experts say family practice residencies are so important because they attract doctors to the area and help keep them here.

Dr. Shabino says, "Right now we only retain about 38% of graduates from our two medical schools. We need to bring physicians from outside our state into our state to practice."

To help do that, a career opportunity web site was recently launched to make doctors more aware of what Wisconsin has to offer.

The Wisconsin Council on Medical Education and Workforce also has other plans that include enrolling students in medical schools who are willing to practice in Wisconsin and enhancing funding for medical education.

The council actually prepared an entire report targeting the physician shortage problem and coming up with ways to tackle it.

Online Reporter: Meg Bonacorsi

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