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Doctor recruitment a necessity

Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, says that Southwest Georgia ranks the lowest in the nation in number of doctors per 100,000 residents.

Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, says that Southwest Georgia ranks the lowest in the nation in number of doctors per 100,000 residents.

ALBANY — Dr. Douglas Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, told members of the Albany Rotary Club on Thursday that the community must work hard to attract and retain new doctors.

In his presentation “Foundation for the Future,” Patten said that Georgia ranks 39th out of the 50 states in the number of doctors per 100,000 people.

“That’s with Atlanta in the mix,” Patten said. “When you take Atlanta out, Georgia falls further down in the rankings. If you were to consider Southwest Georgia on its own, we would rank 50th — dead last out of all the states.”

According to Patten, there is a “distinct link” between the number of “primary” health care providers in a community and the overall health of its residents. Practices considered primary include pediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics, gynecology and family practice. Patten cited Albany Area Primary Health Care as “an asset to the community.” AAPHC states that it is open to the public regardless of the patient’s resident status or income.

“They (AAPHC) are making a dramatic difference for the people in the community they serve,” he said.

Patten said that Phoebe is promoting the region to future medical practitioners at several stages of their education and even beyond. Recently, the hospital welcomed its newest group of third-year students from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

In 2004, the two institutions agreed that a specific number of students can live in the area each year and complete their “rotations” in the various medical specialties. Many of the hospital’s medical staff act as instructors at no charge in an atmosphere conducive to learning. Phoebe hopes that many of the students will return to the area to establish their practices, Patten said.

Phoebe has what Patten describes as a “direction” for the former Albany High School on Jefferson Street across from Phoebe, although there are no formal plans as yet. Generally, he said, Phoebe officials envision a multi-discipline, multi-level environment where undergraduate and graduate students, doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals could train in simulated medical situations.

“Anything from a heart attack to a gunshot wound to a verbal altercation could be simulated and videotaped,” Patten said.

Such a facility could conceivably impact on the number of doctors who settle in the Albany area. Research shows that a significant number people who spend the last parts of their medical training in a particular area will remain to set up practice, Patten said.

Patten expressed his concern that funding for graduate medical students could be cut from its present levels.

“Most of the funding for graduate medical studies comes from Medicare,” Patten said, “and Medicare faces two basic problems in this regard. To start with, when Medicare was implemented, people weren’t living nearly so long. Plus, technology is increasing all the time, and that drives up medical costs.”

Patten says that a shortage of educational funding could force students into acquiring more debt, pushing them toward metropolitan areas and specialties that pay more than primary care.