CONTACT: DAVE PEDERSEN
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 335-8034
Release: Aug. 25, 1999
'Victory' within reach for Iowa communities seeking
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After 26 years of helping supply
family doctors for Iowa communities, University of Iowa College of Medicine
officials can say that "victory" is now well within reach. This declaration
comes as 46 Iowa community groups prepare for the Family Practice Opportunities
Fair, an annual event that links medical professionals with communities that
need additional medical services.
The UI College of Medicine and the Iowa Family Practice
Residents Council will host the event from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28 at the
Polk County Convention Center in Des Moines. Iowa hospitals, medical clinics
and community groups will present exhibits to 85 family practice resident
physicians and nearly 50 physician assistant and nurse practitioner students
training in Iowa.
"Iowa has made great progress over the past several
years in its supply of family doctors," said Roger Tracy, UI College of Medicine
assistant dean and director of the college's Office of Statewide Clinical
Education Programs. "We've seen the number of Iowa communities with at least
one physician increase steadily since 1995, after having steadily decreased
Nearly three decades ago, the college, with encouragement
from the Iowa Academy of Family Physicians and the Iowa Medical Society, established
a statewide training program to increase the supply of the state's family
In 1973, Gov. Robert Ray championed the idea of Iowa
producing its own supply of family doctors. A bipartisan group in the Iowa
legislature guided enabling legislation through the Iowa General Assembly
that same year. The legislation and related appropriations led to the establishment
of a network of nine community-based training programs overseen by the UI
College of Medicine. The programs continue to train medical college graduates
in three-year residencies and are the major source of Iowa's family practice
The state will continue to need a ready supply of
young family physicians, so the work certainly is not finished, Tracy noted.
There are, however, plenty of signs of progress.
For the first 20 years of the family physician training
effort, Iowa was barely keeping pace with its loss of general practitioners
due to retirement, relocation or death among the state's physician
population. The state was only "breaking even" despite having record numbers
of new family physicians entering practice in Iowa each year. During this
period, the state retained more than 60 percent of its family practice graduates
for entry into the physician workforce.
Today, Iowa is no longer "breaking even." For the
past several years, the state has recorded net gains in its supply of family
doctors, and family physician supply is now growing at a record pace. Last
year, Iowa welcomed 86 new family physicians, who helped replace 48 physicians
who left practice. The net gain of 38 doctors was the state's largest net
gain of family physicians ever.
In fact, the state has experienced a net gain of 70
family physicians during the past three years, with 239 new family doctors
entering practice and 169 retiring or relocating.
One could assume that the greatest share of these
gains occurred in Iowa's larger cities but this is not the case, Tracy noted.
Towns with populations under 15,000 received 57 percent (126) of the new doctors
and benefited from 63 percent (44) of the statewide net gain over the past
three years. He added that 27 percent of the total gain has occurred in towns
with populations of 5,000 or less. This percentage is higher than any other
population category in the state, including cities with populations of 50,000
The recruitment success of small towns is measurable
in another way, Tracy said. The number of Iowa towns with at least one doctor
declined steadily from 296 in 1978 to 232 in 1995. Since then, the trend has
reversed, and Iowa now has 251 communities with at least one physician.
"That number is expected to grow. Iowa communities
like Conrad, Shell Rock and Earlham are now attracting Iowa family practice
graduates," Tracy said.
The annual gains should continue as the number of
new family physicians entering Iowa practices increases and the state loses
fewer family doctors to retirement or relocation, Tracy said.
To illustrate, he noted that each year, more than a quarter
of UI medical graduates choose family practice residencies, and about 70 percent
of family practice residents who complete their training in Iowa stay in the
state. At the same time, the state only has about 140 family physicians approaching
retirement, and relocation is no longer a serious factor, Tracy said.
The large, regional health care systems that employ
primary care physicians across Iowa have stabilized the physician workforce,
particularly in rural areas. All told, these trends have led to a decline
in the number of family practice openings in Iowa.
However, these circumstances are part of the success
story, Tracy said.
"The decrease in the number of opportunities in metropolitan
areas has led to a gain in the number of doctors in rural towns," he said.
"That is why communities such as Anamosa, Pella and Sergeant Bluff, for example,
recently were able to attract multiple family doctors. From the communities'
standpoint, it has become a buyer's market."