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Head of Oklahoma's biggest pediatric residency program calls for all hands on deck to solve shortage

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Oklahoma has a major shortage of pediatricians to solve.

The state would need another 250 pediatricians today just to meet the national per child average. Just four states have fewer pediatricians per 100,000 children than Oklahoma: Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota.

OU Health Sciences Pediatric Residency Program Director Dr. Casey Hester said the state’s three training programs produce 36 new pediatricians a year at most, with only about one-third going into primary care and maybe three or four choosing rural areas. Meanwhile, 10 to 20 pediatricians are retiring each year.

"Unless we do something about our pediatrician workforce or we become more collaborative and innovative and creative ... we're never going to catch up, especially in the rural areas. We've got to be changing our thinking on things," Hester said.

Hester said part of the problem is the programs that could work together on the problem are in silos. She said she’s never interacted with the state Office of Rural Health or Physician Manpower Training Commission, and residency programs tend to be competitive rather than collaborative.

"How do these things sort of happen over the time? And yeah, it's sort of history and politics, just like everything else that we're all used to and deal with, but I think there is such opportunity here for us all to really work together," Hester said.

Hester said an obvious solution is finding ways to create more residency slots and therefore more pediatricians, but actively looking for potential rural physicians is a good idea, too.

"And even going back to small towns and saying, 'Who's sort of a promising student that's interested in medicine or health care employment?' and even as early as high school, middle school, really select out those students," Hester said.

Hester also says more pediatricians need to be told about the state’s medical school loan repayment program, through the Physician Manpower Training Commission, which covers up to $200,000 for primary care doctors. Family medicine, geriatrics, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and emergency medicine doctors are all eligible.

Image by Julio César Velásquez Mejía from Pixabay.

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