More progress needed for primary care docs

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Thank you for [Oct. 21 Morris column] on the shortage of primary care doctors from a patient’s perspective.

As an internist, I have been in primary care since 1991 and on various faculty staffs for that same time. Though I love what I do, it is fair to say that the training medical students get is not conducive to considering practicing in this field. There are many concerns for the lack of the primary care provider and Morris hit on a couple of them.

One of the ways we are trying to combat this shortage is to focus on those of us who are in primary care and working to keep us happy and productive. Women physicians now make up the majority of the up-and-coming new physicians in primary care, and health care systems need to be cognizant of the ways in which we work and to be open-minded about different models of care.

We strive to give our women physicians the power to create a working environment that best suits their needs, thereby keeping us working and enjoying what we are doing. It may mean allowing more part-time positions, job sharing or flex hours early in our careers so that the potential for growth is not diminished but allowed to continue in a different pace.

Increasing women physician leaders also creates an environment conducive to innovation in care and care systems.

We recognize that there are salary differences for men and women physicians that are unrelated to the type of practice or the specialty and have created a program called “Negotiating the Divide” that teaches women physicians and scientists how to correct this in their own lives.

Finally, the Indiana University National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health has created a program to expose our medical students and residents to real community medicine by having them work with us on our Women’s Wellness on Wheels. Having the students and residents work with us as we reach out to our community is yet another way of increasing the pipeline of health care providers who see the importance of being part of the primary care system.

But there is so much to be done. We keep on encouraging, promoting and rewarding primary care providers, and we are appreciative of your column, as it highlights the need for a commitment to further development of programs to increase the number of physicians, especially those interested in primary care.

Dr. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber
executive director, National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, associate professor of clinical medicine and pediatrics, IU School of Medicine

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