Recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of physicians to care for Texas patients is an ongoing challenge for the state. Given the size of the state and growing demographics, many urban and rural communities continue to suffer a physician shortage. The demand for physicians is particularly acute in the rural and border areas.
The Physician Education Loan Repayment Program has been one of the most successful models to address the state's physician shortage. However, over the years, the program has become less effective in recruiting new physicians to underserved areas. The reason is that its loan repayment levels are too low.
The average debt of a new physician is approximately $131,000. The amount of new physicians' medical school debt affects where they set up practice and what specialty they choose. The state's Physician Education Loan Repayment Program currently covers only about a third of the average debt a physician accumulates during his or her 11-plus years of education.
To improve patients' access to primary care physicians and other needed specialties, Texas must increase the amount of the annual and total loan repayment levels. Additional funding would help to restore the program so it could be a valuable tool in recruiting physicians to underserved areas of the state.
Medicine's 2009 Agenda
- Improve funding of Texas' loan repayment program and annual loan repayment amounts to allow more physicians to benefit from the program and to provide an effective recruitment tool for medically underserved communities.
- In 2006, Texas ranked 43rd out of 50 states with 191 practicing physicians per 100,000 population. Texas continues to lead the nation in overall population growth. We cannot afford to let our physician workforce lag behind population growth. Our aging population will demand more services, and a large number of practicing physicians will soon reach retirement age.
- Rural and border communities have a better chance of recruiting a new physician when they can offer a unique benefit such as loan repayment.