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Enough doctors for Mississippi? Tough to find answers

Are we training enough doctors in Mississippi to meet both the present and future demand? That is a question asked a lot at both the national and state level. The answers aren’t always easy to find.

“The data is not as hard as you would like it to be,” said Dr. Dan Jones, associate vice chancellor for health affairs and executive associate dean of the School of Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), Jackson. “Mississippi continues to have a lower number of physicians per capita than other states. Clearly rural areas have a harder time attracting physicians than urban areas. Because we are largely a rural state, sometimes we have a hard time attracting physicians.”

UMMC is the only medical school in the state. Dr. Jones said because the school’s mission is to provide health care providers to the state, they carefully track what happens to graduates. About two thirds remain in Mississippi, which is a higher percentage than seen in most states.

“It is not surprising,” Jones said. “Mississippi in general has less in migration and out migration that most states do. People who grow up here like it, and people who don’t grow up here tend to be skeptical about this being a good place to live because of our past history.”

While opinions about the state’s supply of doctors vary, Jones said it is safe to say there is no specialty that is over served. There is room for growth in nearly every specialty.

Progress has been made from the past when most medical students were white males. Currently women make up between 35% to 40% of medical school students in the state.

“That is certainly a dramatic change from 20 years ago,” Jones said. “There have been great strides in gender diversity. And racial diversity is something that we work at very, very hard. It is a challenge. But now about 10% of our admissions are African Americans. We are certainly striving to do everything we can to be as close to representing the community as we can regarding racial diversity in our classes.”

Barksdale scholarships provide full medical school expenses to African American students who attend UMMC. The scholarships are provided for three students in each class for a total of 12 students at a time. Jones said this has helped in competing for minority applicants.

“Minority applicants are desired by every medical school,” Jones said. “This has been a good mechanism to help us attract more quality African American applicants.”

Each class has 100 students, and close to that number graduate each year. While currently a healthy percentage choose to stay in Mississippi, there have been concerns that the state’s legal climate and difficulties in obtaining malpractice insurance could be factors that make it less attractive for new doctors to stay in the state.

“Students and residents are certainly paying attention to tort reform,” Jones said. “And I hope there will be a sense of optimism based on what has happened in the legislature recently. It was a matter of considerable concern. I hope this will make them realize this will make it a better place to practice medicine.”

When it comes to affordability, UMMC has one of the lowest costs in the country. None-the-less, it is still expensive to graduate from medical school. Just the length of training makes it expensive.

“Probably universally the biggest personal challenge of medical school graduates is the debt they carry into the beginning of their professional lives,” Jones said. “It is not unusual for students to have a debt in the $100,000 to $150,000 range.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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