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The Alarming Disappearance of the 'Family Doctor'

Updated: Wednesday, May 14 2014, 07:52 PM EDT

One of the biggest problems facing the nation's health care system is the disappearance of the family doctor. Many are retiring and fewer medical school students are choosing primary care.

It's leading to a shortage which some believe is destined to get worse under the Affordable Care Act. Today less than a quarter of new doctors are choosing primary care and by some projections the United States will be about 50,000 doctors short in the next decade.

Consider the numbers. Family doctors earn on average $185,000 a year. Compare that to $336,000 for general surgeons – and $266,000 for OBGYNs.

"There is perhaps concern about their debt from medical school," Dr. Richard Colgan, who leads the primary care track program at the University of Maryland, said. "There is perhaps concern about even the future of primary care."

Colgan is working on a solution at UMD: an intensive mentoring program involving family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine, where medical students work closely with a primary care doctor.

"The great thing about the Affordable Care Act is it's going to provide more medical care to those who are in need of it, but we also are going to need more primary care physicians to serve as those who can offer up that care," Colgan said.

Dr. E. Albert Reece, Dean of the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine says the problem isn't necessarily a shortage of doctors, but where they are.

"In certain locations, particularly in urban areas, you have a huge number of doctors per capita in rural areas, you may have less," Reece said. "The focus should be less on the absolute overall number of primary care physicians and more on the distribution of primary care physicians."

That's why part of UMD's program immerses medical school students in rural areas, such as Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore -- places where doctors are needed the most.

The Alarming Disappearance of the 'Family Doctor'

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