Texas doctors plead for primary care mentor program

AUSTIN (KXAN) — No matter what ails you, no matter what specialist you may need, a primary care physician is the gatekeeper for it all; and Texas is facing a dire shortage of these doctors.

Now, some Seton Healthcare Family doctors are pleading with the legislators to restore the funding for a decades-old mentorship program severely slashed in the 2011 budget. It encourages primary care work and could mean more doctors coming back to a neighborhood near you.

The Texas population boom and the lure of lucrative specialties means there are less primary care doctors to go around, leaving many patients to drive to the emergency room or postpone their care completely. The mentor program teams veteran primary care physicians with impressionable medical students, and doctors say it works.

“We know from our data those students are 20 percent more likely to stay in primary care, and 20 percent more likely to remain in Texas,” said Dr. Alejandro Moreno with the University of Texas-Dell Medical School.

Dr. Chase Maxwell, a primary care physician, was mentored in 1997. Now he’s passing his enthusiasm on to new students.

“If you take a person like me and turn them on to primary care and get them excited, they come back to a training program where they teach residents in primary care and you sort of pay it forward.”

Maxwell says he might have become a specialist in New England but he chose to stay here because of the relationships mentoring opened up to him.

“There are a lot of aspects of medicine more exciting and glamorous but when you are in primary care you treat patients, sometimes their whole lives,” he said. “That’s the rewarding part that keeps people coming back.”

Doctors want the mentor program spending increased to $4 million over the next two years. State statistics predict the workload for primary care physicians will increase 30 percent by the year 2025, but the supply of doctors is only expected to increase 2-7 percent. Texas has 69 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 81.

More than 100 Texas counties are considered to be in a serious shortage for primary care. The state demographer estimates Texas will need an additional 4,500 primary care doctors this year alone to keep up with demand.

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