How Kentucky’s physician shortage is affecting our area

When you schedule a check-up, it can now take weeks or months to see your doctor. Kentucky is seeing a shortage of physicians.

Mercy Primary Care Doctor Christopher Sperry has a wait list and knows his colleagues struggle as well fitting everyone in.

“One of the biggest things I hate to hear is when patients can’t get back in to see me in a timely manner,” Sperry said.

There’s a demand for more doctors. Sperry says the Affordable Care Act is a partial reason for the demand, because there are more patients with insurance, but the number of providers hasn’t increased.

“I do think we feel that shortage every day. I think we do struggle with that because we want to do everything we can to take care of our patients,” Sperry said.

He says another reason may be fewer students choosing to go to medical school.

“Our best and brightest can find another career that is somewhat easier. They don’t have to devote their lives to education, and then the cost of just going through that,” Sperry said.

He says the average medical student can come out with $180,000 to $300,000 in debt. 

An association that represents medical schools and teaching hospitals finds there could be a shortage nationwide  creating a need for 90,000 more doctors by 2025.

That number includes specialties, but Sperry says not many doctors pick primary care over specializing, like his medical school class.

"There was probably about less than 10 percent of us that went into primary care,” Sperry said. 

He says our area is about 30 primary care providers short of what it needs, and he hopes new medical programs like the University of Kentucky’s Medical School expansion will help.

“Hopefully, get more rural students, and in these rural areas, that will hopefully go back into primary care,” Sperry said.

The University of Kentucky is developing a four year satellite program in Bowling Green and expanding its rural physician leadership program in Morehead. UK’s medical school in Lexington is at capacity and can’t increase enrollment without the help of other institutions. There are 521 students enrolled in UK’s college of medicine, and the partnership will allow that number to increase by about 30 percent.

Mercy Medical Associates, Lourdes employed physician practice, added 33 providers —that includes physicians and mid-levels — last year and are always actively recruiting.

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