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We don’t have enough doctors. By the year 2030, the American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of 120,000 physicians. That could have a negative effect on those in low-income neighborhoods. A public health care plan in California is working to recruit more doctors in those neighborhoods.

Los Angeles projects that it will be short 8,800 physicians in 12 years. That would be devastating. John Baackes with L.A. Care Health Plan knew he had to do something.

“You either move the people to the doctors or you put some doctors where the people are, and we’re attempting to do the latter,” he said. He got his board to give five percent of L.A. Care’s reserve — about $31 million — for a three-pronged attack on the doctor shortage. Acknowledging that medical school costs push students with huge debt into specialties that pay more, L.A. Care gave eight students full-ride scholarships and recently added eight more. All are minorities wanting to give back.

“I definitely want to work in underserved communities. That’s the place I came from. My family still lives in South Central L.A., suffering from the different disparities that exist,” medical student Parris Diaz said.

“It’s really personal in a sense that it’s what my parents, my parents right now even suffer through. I’m going to school to become a good doctor and potentially a community advocate,” UCLA student Nquyen Pham said.

Additionally, L.A. Care’s loan recruitment program will repay new physician debt up to $180,000 if the doctor continues to serve in the safety net for three years.

Network clinics also get grants of $125,000 for each new doctor recruited. Baackes says the program has already had impact, because 32 new primary care doctors and clinics have applied.

“The payoff is a long way off, but we figure we’ve got to devote a portion of these resources to that as well,” he said.

Baackes hopes his board will make the same $31 million commitment for the next five years.  That would mean 40 more medical school scholarships and placement of up to 400 doctors.