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Nancy Smith

Study: Florida Falling Deeper into a Physician Specialist Hole

February 16, 2015 - 6:00pm

With the release Tuesday of a first-of-its-kind study of physician supply and demand, Florida finally has proof how far it's fallen behind in providing medical specialists for its growing population.

According to the study commissioned by the Teaching Hospital Council of Florida and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, the shortage will grow to 7,000 physician specialists by 2025.

"We've known for some time we've got a shortage," said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, speaking to a large media contingent at the Capitol. "What we now know because of this study is how short." Hudson is chairman of the House Health Care Appropriations Committee.

Those particularly feeling the pain, he said, "are the folks who live in Florida's 32 rural counties. And it's only going to get worse."

Hudson explained the shortage spans 19 specialties, the most critical of which are psychiatry, general surgery, rheumatology and thoracic surgery.

"We're the third largest state in the nation, we rank near the bottom in the number of residency training slots relative to population and we're growing in population by 800 people a day," he said.

According to the study, Florida would need to create and fill 13,568 residency positions to fully resolve the shortage by 2025. To make that number on time, the state needs an additional 1,360 new residency slots a year.

Congress has failed to reapportion residencies -- New York and Massachusetts has a surplus -- so it's up to Florida to do what it needs to do, said Hudson.

Expect the Legislature to pay increasing attention to the issue. Hudson and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee, both pledged to make the issue a budget priority, perhaps looking for more money than the governor has assigned in his budget.

Gov. Rick Scott made closing the gap between physician supply and demand a priority in 2013 by proposing $80 million in recurring funds for a new Medicaid residency program, saying it was "important to create jobs in fields where demand will remain high." In his 2015-2016 budget he has proposed increasing graduate medical education funding by another $7.5 million annually.

In a sampling of more than 16,600 active physicians, the study found that where medical school graduates conducted their residencies played a crucial role in where they chose to practice. "Look at me," said Dr. Michael Good, dean of the University of Florida Medical School in Gainesville. "I'm an example. I came from the Midwest to do my residency in Florida and here I stayed."

Florida is losing two-thirds of its medical school graduates to out-of-state residency programs. "We need to increase the number of high-quality residency training positions in our teaching hospitals and health systems that are available to graduates of the medical schools in Florida, and that attract the top grads from across the country to Florida residencies, making it more likely for them to stay in Florida after graduation and join our physician workforce."

Hudson and Bean both said it was too early to say how much money the Legislature will seek this year or how many residency slots that money will pay for. "It's too early to say today," said Hudson. "The study is only just in. We'll be looking at it fairly quickly, though."

The study, "Florida Physician Workforce Analysis: Forecasting Supply and Demand," was conducted by IHS Global.


Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter @NancyLBSmith

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