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Longer waits at the doctor's office

By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- The wait time at family doctor's offices may soon get even longer because the nation is experiencing a shortage of doctors.

El Paso and surrounding areas are experiencing a serious shortage in primary care and specialty physicians, said doctors in the borderland. However, doctors are saying it's not because there aren't enough people going into the field.

Doctor Michael Romano, the associate dean of clinical affairs at the Paul L Foster School of Medicine, said he's seeing a spike in medical school enrollment.

Even with more medical students, however, Romano said the borderland is experiencing a serious doctor shortage.

"Among adult primary care physicians, which are internists and family medicine doctors, two years ago we needed 366 more physicians than what we had. Those numbers have only gotten worse," said Romano.

Romano blames the shortage on a few things.

"As we are increasing the number of medical students, we're hitting a point where there aren't places for them to go into residencies," said Romano.

Once a medical student graduates, they must complete a residency program where they work in a hospital. Romano predicts things will get even worse for medical students throughout Texas because there are more graduates than there are residency spots.

"Most of our graduates go to practice within 75 miles of where they trained and so if we have to send someone out of state for their residency program they're much more likely to stay there then opposed to coming back to Texas," said Romano.

In the end, it's the patients who suffer by experiencing longer wait times.

"To see the doctor about a month or so, and when I'm at the waiting room it's like 30 minutes to 40 minutes to see the doctor," said Ana Martinez, a West El Paso resident.

One solution that's already in place at hospitals is relying more on nurse practitioners. Romano said that's not going to erase the problem though. Instead Romano said he would like to "expand the graduate medical education numbers and the slots that are available."

It's something Romano said the Paul L Foster School of Medicine is trying to do. The medical school is working aggressively with hospitals in the region to create more positions for residence.

Romano said there's another problem -- money.  Romano said the most challenging part of expanding residency programs is funding since it's very expensive.
 

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