Donation To Help Keep Doctors In Rural Iowa - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Donation To Help Keep Doctors In Rural Iowa

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Iowa hospitals join the fight to keep doctors in rural Iowa.

The U-I Health Alliance will donate one million dollars over the next three years to a loan repayment program.

Rural Iowa faces a shortage of family doctors.

Leaving people living in areas with fewer doctors than are needed, potentially forcing them to travel to find care.

High student debt is one factor pulling medical students to higher paying specialties, and away from rural areas.

Most Iowa counties have medically undeserved areas within their borders.

The latest data from the federal government shows the majority of Iowa counties lack doctors in at least one part of their territory.

Family doctors and psychiatrists are in the greatest need.

Yet when the average medical school debt keeps going, med students have to weigh where they want to work with how much debt they owe.

"There are economic realities that prevent our students from choosing to practice in rural settings," says University of Iowa Medical Dean Dr. Debra Schwinn.

She says the average doctor coming out of Iowa City owes $160,000. A debt load that can make family practice in a rural area unattractive.

"There's several scattered throughout the state, 90 in a state the size of Iowa is a pretty big number," says family doctor Brent Hoehns.

He graduated in 1992. He came out of college owing $68,000.

"Nowadays that's nothing, and 15 years from now, crazy to think what the numbers will be," says Hoehns.

He says rural doctors get paid less because they're not specialists like cancer or heart doctors. When a student looks at how they'll pay their loans after graduation, they may cross rural areas off the list in favor of a practice that pays more.

"The longer you're in school the higher your debt gets so you're thinking about picking something that's going to help pay off your debt," says second year medical student Jacob Hayes.

That's where the Iowa rural doctor loan payment program comes in. It'll cover up to $200,000 of debt, if a student works in a needy rural area for five years.

Hayes believes the program is a good idea.

"Even if you don't want to do anything rural you can do anything for five years," says Hayes.

He grew up in rural Idaho. He hasn't decided yet what he wants to do in medicine, but he says student loan debt is one factor med students weigh. It's a factor the state hopes to shift into its favor.

"If we can reduce some of the debt that they have by staying here, we'll have more physicians choose to stay in Iowa," says Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

A decision 20 students may find a little easier with a chance at loan forgiveness.

The loan program is a public private partnership.

Other private groups have kicked in donations as well as the state legislature.

The goal is to have enough money to keep the program in place permanently.

It's expected to begin giving out money in the next six years.

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