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Med schools training at top speed, but Minnesota doctor shortage looms

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A new estimate of how an impending doctor shortage will hit Minnesota says the state is on track to have 2,000 fewer physicians than it needs over the next 10 years.

The group Minnesota Needs Doctors, which was put together by the state's teaching hospitals, says about one-third of Minnesota's doctors are likely to retire over those 10 years. Meanwhile, an aging population and fresh access to health insurance are driving up the demand for medical care.

Those dynamics are in place all over the country. Minnesota Needs Doctors says the nationwide shortage is estimated at 90,000.

The vice-dean for medical education at the U of M says the med school is doing what it can to address the crunch – but is hampered by the limited number of openings for medical residencies, the Minnesota Daily reports.

Mark Rosenberg tells the Daily the medical schools in both Duluth and the Twin Cities are at their enrollment capacities. He says expanding enrollment is unlikely, since openings for residencies are stagnant.

Med school graduates can't be licensed to practice medicine until they've completed a residency. According to a Minnesota Hospital Association report this summer, the number of slots for residency programs in the state has been frozen since 1996.

In that July report, the hospitals put Minnesota's doctor shortage at about 850 – less than half what Minnesota Needs Doctors now estimates. Both groups say it will take an increase in funding for Graduate Medical Education to increase residencies.

A doctor shortage is already a fact of life for many rural Minnesotans.

The director of the state Health Department's Office of Rural Health and Primary Care told MinnPost in August that in remote areas daily access to physicians or nurse practitioners doesn't exist.

The U of M has a Rural Physician Associate Program that was created to foster interest among medical students in providing primary care outside of urban areas.

Minnesota is participating in National Rural Health Day on Nov. 20 to highlight the health care challenges facing rural areas.

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