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Group hopes to attract doctors

In rural areas such as Marengo and other Black Belt counties, there is a sense of frustration as they watch young doctors flock to large cities.

That is because there simply isn’t enough funding available to draw them to rural Alabama communities.

But, this could soon change, through a partnership of the Alabama Medical Education Consortium and the University of West Alabama.

Consortium representative Clyde Barganier spoke to the Marengo County Commission Tuesday to promote this exciting new program. The idea for this program, Barganier said, launched from the steady influx of new doctors into areas with large population bases.

“We have a serious shortage of primary care doctors in this state,” Barganier said. “We have two medical schools that jointly produce about 220 doctors a year. About 90 percent of them are sub-specialists and they go to the cities. They don’t come to the rural areas.”

Studies on physicians in rural areas, Barganier said, indicated that half of them would be at retirement age with no one coming in to take their place. Based on this information, he said, AMEC began working as a private foundation to come up with solutions. In the process, he said, they partnered with a local university.

“We are working with the University of West Alabama to grow a program that will grow your own,” Barganier said. “Success in other states has been shown when you work with people to encourage them to go into medicine. Then, they come to, if not their rural community, another rural community.”

The program is designed to produce 70 rural health Alabamians who can become practitioners every year when it is in full swing. The program started in October, Barganier said, and there are already seven involved.

The idea is to get medical students to do their two-year clinical rotation and three-year residency in rural Alabama and keep them there.

Getting the program on its feet, Barganier said, could take time.

“This is a long term project,” Barganier said. “Producing a doctor takes a long time and you have to get started early.”

The program will not work through the state, Barganier said. They planned to work on a community-by-community basis.

The commission with great enthusiasm received the proactive plan. Commission Chairman Ken Tucker said they idea or molding their own physicians seemed like a great idea.

“I think we are all supportive of the concept of growing your own,” Tucker said. “I agree that if you get people from the area and help them, they are more likely to come back.”

Commissioner Max Joiner said he also felt this was a positive answer to a widespread problem.

“My presumption is that this is the way to go,” Joiner said. “This gives you a base for your young doctors.”

A lack of medical care in rural Alabama, Tucker said, was something many people who did not have top-notch facilities such as Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital close by encountered every day. He said this was a great way to provide medical care in their communities.

“It is a serious need that we are all going to be faced with,” Tucker said. “I think this is a really creative way to try to meet that need.”

More information on the program is available at www.amec.uwa.edu