State facing shortage of doctors

Posted at: 07/22/2013 8:34 PM
By: Lauren Hansard, KOB Eyewitness News 4

There are at least 300 vacant positions in the state for primary care physicians.  Rural New Mexico is most in need and that puts some patients in a bad situation.

It’s hard to recruit doctors to rural New Mexico.  Areas around Roswell are struggling to get doctors to buy into a different lifestyle.

"It is hard for them to come out to a rural area, all of a sudden you’ve got all these open spaces, and you can cross town in 5 minutes," said Executive Director of La Casa Family Health Center Seferino Montano.

Right now every county in New Mexico except two have a shortage of primary care doctors.  This means there are 3,500 patients or more per doctor.  That creates more problems than just long lines.

An overcrowding of patients means more are spilling into emergency rooms for care, which is more costly.

"You are lucky if you get out of there with a bill that is less than $500, if you go to a primary care physician you may have a bill anywhere from $75 to $130," said Montano.

Fewer visits to the doctor also mean it is harder to prevent or treat diseases.

To make matters worse, nearly 40 percent of primary care physicians in the state are nearing retirement.

Montano said fewer people are graduating from residencies than ever before.  The competition is driving up salaries.

"A physician was hired in Roswell, a family physician, straight out of residency at a salary of $230,000 a year, which is sort of unheard of," said Montano.

Making it hard for rural communities to compete, and keep their doctors once they get them.

"One of the issues in Roswell has been the tremendous turnover, for some reason they can be recruited there but many of them leave after a relatively short time," said Jerry Harrison from New Mexico Health Resources.