All but 3 Tenn. counties are in a health care shortage

Doctors predict by 2030 we will have a shortage of between 20-50,000 primary care physicians in the U.S.
Today, more than 35,000 future physicians—25 percent of all U.S. medical students
Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 6:07 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - In Tennessee, all but three counties are dealing with a health care shortage. Which is why a rural health conference is happening in Nashville, where medical leaders are working on ways to help these under served communities.

Dr. Robert A. Cain, is the president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. He talked about the primary care shortage in the country, and how it’s impacting Tennessee, and how Osteopathic Medicine is growing and helping in rural and underserved areas.

“So the important part is how can we get primary care physicians into rural America, how can we support the hospitals so they have an adequate work force, how can we make sure American citizens are getting the care they need,” said Cain.

He said by 2030 we will have a shortage of between 20,000 to 50,000 primary care physicians in the United States. He said in Tennessee we are already seeing the challenges impacting rural communities.

“When we look at rural health care itself, patients tend to be older that live in those areas. They tend to have chronic diseases and often times in combination with those chronic diseases sadly die more frequently of those chronic diseases then their fellow citizens living in those urban areas,” said Cain.

Roane Medical Center in Roane County is owned by Covenant Health which is headquartered in Knoxville. People said that even with the medical center there, they still have to drive at least 30 minutes to see a physician for various medical reasons.

Rural America makes up 20% of America’s population, but only 10% of physicians actually practice in those areas. Diane Cox takes care of her mother who is 87 years old, she said they have to go out of town to see most of their doctors.

“We do have some great doctors and some great providers here but however we lack in the specialty department so we are having to travel to Knoxville for neurologist, and urologist and different specialties,” said Cox.

She said she doesn’t know how her mother would be able to make the trips without her and she feels for the people who do not have access to transportation.

“Mainly the distance when you get to that age traveling is very hard on her so there’s a lot of times she tries to talk me out of going to the doctor just because she doesn’t want to make the trip,” said Cox.

Cain said he believes the future of medicine is trying to get doctors to come to the homes. So they can better serve the community.

Cain said becoming a doctor of osteopathic medicine is a great way to serve rural communities because most of the schools are located close to rural areas. There are a few here in Tennessee.