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Rural doctor shortage in S.D. worsened by lack of physician training opportunities

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A widespread shortage of primary care physicians in rural South Dakota is putting many of the state’s residents in danger of not being able to access the regular, preventive healthcare they need to live healthier lives. The shortage is being driven, in part, by a lack of post-graduate training opportunities — known as residency — focused on training doctors to work in rural communities.

The doctor shortage is widespread in rural South Dakota. A map created by the South Dakota Department of Health shows that ready access to primary care physicians is available only to residents along the Interstate 29 corridor, a few areas in the central Missouri River region and around the Black Hills in the west. Most other areas of the state are considered to be in a shortage of access to primary medical care.

According to the department, nearly all of the state’s counties are also home to communities that are medically underserved in terms of access to proper health care.

While physician shortages are expected all over the country thanks to an aging population with increasing longevity, rural areas of the country are expected to be among the hardest hit

“Rural areas have been particularly at risk for losing doctors and losing hospitals,” said Dr. Robert Summerer, a surgeon and president of the South Dakota State Medical Association. “That puts women who are delivering babies and the elderly in danger because it takes a long time to get to the care they need.”

The American Association of Medical Colleges, in an April 2019 report, predicted the country would be short between 21,100 and 55,200 primary care physicians by 2032. The same report, called “Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand,” predicted smaller shortages in medical specialties such as psychiatry, general surgery and neurology as well. Overall, the AAMC report predicts a physician shortage of between 46,900 and 121,000 doctors by 2032.

A large and growing part of the problem is that there aren’t enough post-graduate training positions in places that most need primary care physicians, general surgeons and obstetricians, Summerer said.

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