CMU eyes locals to relieve doctor shortage for rural Michigan

Northern Michigan needs to take a gardening approach to solve its shortage of medical services, and grow its own doctors.

That’s the advice of Ernie Yoder, dean of the yet-to-open Central Michigan University College of Medicine.

The shortage of physicians in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula and in the U.P. causes some rural residents to drive two hours to get a tooth pulled or have a baby. Rural communities have a tough time attracting doctors, who can earn higher salaries in metropolitan areas.

“We know two significant determinants of working in a rural environment,” Yoder explains. “One, they come from there, and two, their training occurs in those areas. More than 60 percent (of physicians) go into practice within 100 miles of where they do their final training.”

Complicating the issue is the number of residencies in the state. Michigan medical schools can produce more home-grown graduates, but if the number of residencies in Michigan hospitals remains at current levels, it will be difficult to increase the number of practicing physicians.

When the school opens in fall 2013, Yoder hopes to attract a high percentage of students from Michigan, particularly from rural communities. The school also will have five residency programs based in Saginaw. The school also has an affiliation with a Midland hospital, and is looking for affiliations with facilities in the Upper Peninsula.

It takes a particular type of physician to work in a rural area, Yoder says. “I worked in Detroit for 30 years. I had access to all specialties 24 hours a day. In a rural area, a physician’s role is broader. You need the same depth of skills and training, but you need a broader scope.

“You get the right people in the program and train them the right way,” and many of them will stay,” Yoder says.

Senior Writer Ron French joined Bridge in 2011 after having won more than 40 national and state journalism awards since he joined the Detroit News in 1995. French has a long track record of uncovering emerging issues and changing the public policy debate through his work. In 2006, he foretold the coming crisis in the auto industry in a special report detailing how worker health-care costs threatened to bankrupt General Motors.




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