In an effort to address the state’s shortage of doctors in rural areas, the University of Kentucky has announced long-term plans to develop regional medical school sites at Morehead State University and Murray State University.
A recently completed study by the Kentucky Institute of Medicine found that Kentucky has a ratio of 213.5 doctors per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 267.9 doctors per 100,000.
The problem is most acutely felt in the state’s rural areas, said Dr. Jay Perman, dean of the UK College of Medicine. “The shortage of doctors – particularly in primary care roles – is particularly felt in areas such as eastern and western Kentucky. We have an important role to play in ameliorating this problem, which is both a health care crisis and economic issue,” Perman said.
“This important initiative is precisely what the mission of a flagship, land-grant institution of higher learning is all about,” said UK President Lee Todd. “We have a critical need in this state for more physicians, particularly in rural areas and in primary care and family practice, as well as medical and surgical specialties. That means increasing the number of medical graduates and helping place them in areas of need.”
The College of Medicine hopes to increase the size of its class over the next several years by nearly 30 percent, from a little more than 100 students each year to about 130.
Opening regional medical school sites at two regional universities – one in Morehead by 2010 and one in Murray, potentially as early as 2012 – will provide an incentive for doctors to stay in rural areas to practice, Todd said. Students from Kentucky’s rural areas with an interest in medicine will be targeted and recruited for the special program.
A critical element in the plan hinges on how quickly funding can be established, said Todd, who estimates the initiative will require about $1 million in initial start-up costs, including expansion of laboratories and classroom space. The program will require about $1 million in recurring annual funding for faculty and staff costs in Morehead.
“Additional doctors will mean millions of dollars more in economic growth for our region and our state,” said state House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook), who has led the effort for funding of a health sciences building at Morehead State and is a chief advocate of the regional site initiative.
State Sen. Ken Winters (R-Murray) concurred, noting that the initiative will address a critical problem in western Kentucky, where several counties are without any primary care physicians. “This can and should be a model for what higher education, business and health care enterprises can do when working together on the challenges confronting our commonwealth.”