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The primary care physician deficit

August 08, 2011
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Back in 2009, USA President Barack Obama was quoted as saying during a White House forum on health care, “We’re not producing enough primary care physicians. The costs of medical education are so high that people feel that they’ve got to specialize.” Since 2009, little has changed on this issue. Traditional medical school is still expensive. Tuition costs are still rising. Because most medical students have to pay back large loans (a newly qualified doctor in the US typically owes more than $140,000) many medical graduates choose to go into the more lucrative specialty fields. So family medicine, particularly outside the main urban centers, where salaries are higher, is still suffering a shortage of doctors. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) the number of U.S. medical school students going into primary care has dropped 51.8% since 1997. The AAFP is predicting a shortage of 40,000 family physicians in 2020. But this shortage doesn’t necessarily mean that people don’t want to go into primary medical care. It’s more that they can’t afford to. Recent medical graduate Doug Dreffer is bucking the trend towards specialized medicine, saying "I consider family medicine a privilege. I like people. I like relationships. That's what family medicine is about…You get to be part of your patient's life story." But committed graduates like Doug can pay a high price for their service to society, with lower salaries meaning they take longer to pay off their loans. Shirsha Guha, Chief Registrar at Saint James School of Medicine told me of several visits she made recently to hospitals in the US, where the shortage of primary care doctors was mentioned as a significant concern. 95% of Caribbean medical graduates go into primary care, so schools like Saint James are doing an incredibly valuable service to the United States in filling this crucial skill gap. Because Saint James School of Medicine believes that a high quality medical education should be affordable and accessible to everyone with the ability to succeed, we offer some of these most competitive fees in the Caribbean. Our graduates don’t enter medicine burdened by huge debt so they can afford to follow their heart and go into family medicine. Choosing Saint James means you can pursue a career inspired by your love of medicine rather than being obliged to seek a high salary to pay off higher debts.
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