Upstate Medical University on the frontline in efforts to combat national doctor shortage

A severe shortage of doctors is forcing colleges such as Upstate Medical University to increase its enrollment and graduation rates.

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2020. Complicating matters is the Affordable Care Act, commonly called "Obamacare", which will provide an additional 30 million Americans with access to health care, along with the fact that a third of all doctors plan to retire this decade.

The states experiencing the worst doctor shortage are Georgia, Wyoming and Oklahoma. New York State ranks third in the nation with the best patient to doctor ratios, 277.4 doctors per 100,000 people. But most are concentrated around the New York City area, while parts of upstate New York continue to see a critical need for primary care physicians.

Interim Dean of the College of Medicine at Upstate, Dr. David Duggan told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that the university graduated 164 students last year which is an increase of about 8 percent over the past several years. Dr. Duggan says one of the problems in addressing the physician shortage is a "long pipeline" in that it take 11 years or longer for a freshman student to eventually become a doctor. He says another problem is a "limit on the number of clinical settings" where a prospective doctor can gain the practical experience he or she would need.

Dr. Arthur Vercillo, Regional President of Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield, says there's "no need to panic, there's plenty of lead time" to address the growing shortage. Vercillo predicts a dramatic growth in "mid level" medical personnel such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners who can provide many of same services as a medical doctor.

Both Vercillo and Duggan say there's a growing need to convince medical graduates to stay in Central New York. Dr. Duggan sees a need to expand a rural medical program in which doctors would receive incentives such as grants and tuition assistance to set up practices in under-served areas of New York State.

Dr. Vercillo says it's important to promote Central New York as an attractive place for doctors entering the profession to locate.

"This is a wonderful place to live" he said.