Arizona Rural Health Center brief highlights worsening labor shortages in rural areas, citing growing, aging patient population – State of Reform
The Arizona Center for Rural Health (AzCRH) recently published Profile of the specialist physician workforce reveals the significant shortages of doctors in rural areas of the state.
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Currently, Arizona is meeting only 37% of its primary care needs and needs 653 additional primary care providers to address this shortage. According to 2019 data that AzCRH analyzed in this filing, the ratio of physicians in the state was 243.6 physicians per 100,000 population compared to the national median ratio of 272.0 physicians per 100,000 population. For rural areas of the state, the ratio of physicians per 100,000 population was 129.9 compared to 254.0 physicians per 100,000 population in urban areas of the state.
The brief also notes that while 10.2% of Arizonans live in rural areas, only 5.5% of doctors practice in rural areas of the state.
The table below lists the number of professionals with undergraduate medical training in each of the top 5 provider categories.
Daniel Derksen, MD, Walter H. Pearce Endowed Chair & Director at AzCRH, and Bryna Koch, Research Program Administrator at AzCRH, said this shortage is worsening due to the significant population growth occurring in the state. , as well as the aging of the population.
Derksen highlighted the challenges that doctor shortages have posed to healthcare facilities during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit [its] peak at various times we’ve seen in rural areas, sometimes when a single intensive care unit nurse or lung lung specialist has fallen ill or died of complications from COVID, that infrastructure capacity rural to meet the demand [of care] has been strained and sometimes overwhelmed,” he said.
Koch pointed to the costs of these shortages on rural Arizona communities.
“The further away the care is, the less likely you are to receive timely care. You’re talking about sparse populations and long travel times,” she said. “This disproportionate distance, even in rural areas [areas]affects people with low incomes, lower literacy levels, those with fewer resources to rely on such as access to a car… Having to travel for treatment can really increase some of the [and] social costs for an individual or families.
Derksen said state efforts to encourage primary care providers to practice in federally designated facilities Areas of Shortage of Health Professionals (HPSA) or Medically Underserved Areas of Arizona (AzMUA), such as Arizona State Loan Repayment Programsare key strategies to address these shortages.
“The data shows that when you train healthcare professionals, whether it’s a nurse practitioner, a doctor or [doctor of osteopathic medicine] in a rural or underserved community, or if they grew up in a rural or underserved community, they are much more likely to practice there,” he said.
“We are one of the best states in terms of the percentage of our population that is Native American. We have a very high percentage of our population that is Latino Hispanic, and clearly Latino Hispanic populations [and] Native American populations tend to turn to the most needed specialties, such as primary care, but also to areas where they are most needed and to communities.