A real medical emergency

More residency slots will help state's desperate need for doctors

New figures show Georgia continues to be one of the fastest-growing states in the nation.

Old figures show we don’t have enough doctors for them all.

A new Census report puts Georgia’s growth at fourth in the nation in terms of people added (128,000) from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011 – a growth rate of 1.32 percent, which is 10th in the nation.

The challenge will be to find enough doctors for them, and for future growth.

It’s a problem nationwide. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a national shortage of more than 90,000 physicians in the next decade. But it’s the high-growth states that the shortage will hit hardest.

And while the state’s medical college – Georgia Health Sciences University – is adding slots as fast as it can, Georgia slipped recently in the State Physician Data Book from the Association of American Medical Colleges from 40th to 41st in the number of active physicians per 100,000 people.

But in truth, it doesn’t matter if you educate a million doctors: Unless they have somewhere to train – most doctors must complete up to three years’ “residency” (working in hospital settings) – they will leave the state for greener pastures.

So while we educate more doctors, we also must be opening up more slots for them to train. If we do, it will benefit Georgia for decades to come: Statistics show that if medical students graduate and do a residency in the same state, 70 percent of the time they’ll stay there.

Thus, even as times are tight, we implore Gov. Nathan Deal and the legislature to approve the University System of Georgia Board of Regents’ $1.2 million request to add 400 residency positions across the state. The funding would be used to assist hospitals with startup costs in opening up the new residency slots.

We can’t think of a better use of funds. Training new doctors for the coming decades of population growth in Georgia should be among the state’s highest priorities. It will save lives, enhance the quality of those lives, and provide for a better health-care network for our children and grandchildren.

It’s not an expenditure. It’s an investment – and in the most important thing we can invest in: our health.

It’s also something we need to do for ourselves and future Georgians. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently allocated funding for 1,354 residency slots – and totally bypassed Georgia, despite its glaring need.

Here again, we call on our leaders to take heed: The entire weight of Georgia’s congressional delegation must do whatever it can to get the residency slots this large and growing state deserves.

There are few things as important.

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