|By Angela Hart, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
What really struck her, however, was something simple: Her grandfather's deep relationship with his primary care doctor.
"He struggled so much in his life, so seeing the doctors really care about him and his health meant so much to me," she said. "They developed such a strong relationship that his doctor even came to his funeral when he passed away."
Now Rodriguez, 23, wants to join the ranks of local family doctors. This summer, she was one of six people selected for a fast-track joint medical program offered by the
The three-year program, shortened from the standard four-year medical education, is the first of its kind in
The dwindling supply of family practitioners, who handle patient needs including childbirth, preventive care, obstetrics and gynecology, is a not a new problem; but it is growing more pronounced as graduating physicians -- faced with hefty six-digit student loan debt -- instead choose fields where they can make more money or have more flexible schedules.
Among doctors and medical students, the rigors and sacrifices of primary care medicine are well known.
"Primary care is one of the most complex and demanding fields," said
Nearly four times as many primary care physicians are needed than are practicing in the county today, according to a recent study by the county's
The problem is mirrored throughout the state and across the nation. In
The problem is getting worse as millions of Americans become newly eligible for health coverage and seek care. The country is projected to be short 45,000 primary care doctors from what it will need in 2020, according to the
"Producing enough future primary care physicians is absolutely a challenge," said
Even as enrollment in medical schools nationwide is on the rise,
According to a county survey, 20 percent of primary care doctors plan to retire in the next five years, and an additional 9 percent said they had plans to move out of the county in the same period. About 54 percent of doctors in the county are in specialty care, according to the county survey. The remainder are in primary care.