Proactively addressing the critical shortage of doctors in Polk County is a major opportunity to improve the health and wellness of our community. Today, we have only 61 primary care physicians for every 100,000 residents in Polk County, compared to 90 nationally and 97 in Florida. Consequently, many people in our community do not have a “medical home” because they have been unable to establish a physician/patient relationship with a local primary care doctor, especially if they are a Medicaid recipient or do not have health insurance. As a result, many of these individuals forgo preventive care and appropriate management of their chronic diseases, receiving only urgent episodic care in our Emergency Department.
In total, this critical shortage of primary care physicians adversely affects our community’s health. Polk County performs worse than national, state and other local counties in nearly all health outcome measures, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke. Recently, as a way to combat this disparity, we opened the Lakeland Regional Family Health Center, but like so many of our community partners serving the underserved, we realize this critical shortage requires an even greater solution. In addition, we understand that without a solution this disparity will only worsen over time.
By starting a Graduate Medical Education (GME) program and becoming a teaching hospital, LRMC hopes to help our local community and the state proactively address this gap by ensuring there are enough physicians to care for our entire community. Today, the State of Florida graduates approximately 3,750 medical students from its seven allopathic medical schools. However, there are only 3,280 residency positions for these graduating students to complete their clinical training. As a result, the State of Florida is “exporting” almost 500 students each year to other states. Because residents are more likely to establish a practice in the state where they completed their clinical residency training than where they went to medical school, it is a concern that once they leave the state, they will not return to practice here in Florida where shortages exist.
Over the next two-and-a-half years, LRMC will be planning and developing its residency program. The first residents will arrive in July of 2015, helping to grow the GME program in conjunction with USF Health with the goal of having more than 200 residency positions in our local community at LRMC by 2020. By having a GME program and working with our community partners, we will address the unmet needs of our community by growing our primary care physician workforce in Polk County. Together, we will be Making Life Better by striving to create the healthiest community in the nation.
If you are a member of our LRMC medical staff and would like to learn more about our establishing a GME program at LRMC, please feel free to contact me. I will be happy to meet with you.