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Wisconsin needs 100 extra doctors a year to avoid shortage crisis

As the country faces a shortage of doctors in the coming decades as the demand for them increases, one Midwestern state has put a number on just how many extra doctors per year it will need to avoid a crisis: 100.

By conservative estimates, Wisconsin will have a physician shortfall of more than 2,000 by 2030 says a new white paper issued by the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The WHA estimates that Wisconsin needs to bring in about 900 doctors a year. It currently brings in about 720 from out of state and about 150 come from the state’s medical schools. Those numbers are offset by retiring doctors or those who leave the state.

[See also: Doctor shortage could hit 125,000.]

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That means the state needs to add 100 doctors more each year said George Quinn, WHA’s senior policy advisor.

And that number could be higher. One hundred doctors each year is only adequate if that many get added each year beginning immediately. So, what’s the plan?

“The best way to ensure that you have enough physicians in your state or locality is to pretty much grow your own,” Quinn said. WHA has laid out recommendations for working toward getting those extra doctors in its state. The keystone of those recommendations is medical education paired with training opportunities.

WHA notes that if a medical student graduates from a Wisconsin medical school and does his or her residency in Wisconsin, there’s a 70 percent chance that student will stay in the state to practice. So, Quinn said, they are working on strategies to increase the state’s medical school capacity and increase the number of residency programs.

Looking at the high percentage of Wisconsin-educated and -trained graduates, one thing is clear, said Christiane Mitchell, director of federal affairs at the Association of American Medical Colleges, “If Wisconsin wants more doctors, they are going to have to make sure that those graduates stay and train at a Wisconsin residency program.”

And that’s where the big problem lives, she said. Medicare capped how much it pays toward residency training back in 1997 and lawmakers have been considering cuts to training funding as they struggle with containing the budget. Hospitals have been fully-funding some training positions she said, but they’re struggling to contain costs themselves so it isn’t likely a rescue will be coming from that direction.

That’s why WHA’s recommendations rely on cooperation from multiple stakeholders said Quinn. The only way the state will avoid a physician shortage crisis, he said, is to work together. “Each stakeholder has its own kind of institutional imperatives and strategies and goals, but we need to think through developing a common goal and the strategies we would work on together to reach those goals,” he said. “It’s really a matter of being able to do that.”

Follow HFN associate editor Stephanie Bouchard on Twitter @SBouchardHFN.