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WSW: Where Are the Primary Care Doctors?

Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo - file photo from WMUK

Michigan, like many other states, is projected to face a growing shortage of primary care doctors. A new reports from the Citizen's Research Council of Michigan finds the lack of doctors will likely be concentrated in some areas of the state. 

Citizens Research Council of Michigan Research Associate Nicole Bradshaw says the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion in Michigan make the role of primary care physicians more important. The number of physicians in Michigan is expected to grow, thanks in part to new medical schools at Western Michigan University and other schools. But many areas of the state won't have enough primary care doctors.

The four counties in Michigan that have the most physician shortages as determined by federal statistics are Van Buren, Wayne, Montcalm and Chippewa. Bradshaw says there are a variety of factors that the government considers in trying to determine where shortages exist.

Interview with Nicole Bradshaw - web version

The CRC report breaks down the shortages in other ways. Those include the different kinds of primary care physicians. By that measure, Cass County is one of four in the state that falls short of the ideal range in every field examined in the report. But Bradshaw says examining the entire problem is complex. She says someone in the middle of Cass County may have to travel outside the county for a doctor with a shorter wait time. Bradshaw says the northern part of the state has large areas with a shortage of physicians. 

Bradshaw says medical students are more likely to practice near where they go to school. She says opening satellite schools in rural and underserved areas of the state may help bring new doctors to areas where there is a shortage. Bradshaw says compensation also plays a role in what types of medicine doctors practice and where they choose to live and work. She says many choose to be specialists because it pays better. 

The aging of the population is a factor in the looming shortage of physicians. Bradshaw says baby boomers are getting older and require more medical care. She says at the same time many physicians are preparing for retirement. Bradshaw says there does not appear to be a pipeline of students ready to take the place of those primary care doctors. 

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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