Nightly News   |  May 25, 2013

Doctor shortage hits hard in rural America

It's a national health care crisis. There just aren't enough doctors in our country. The shortage has hit rural America especially hard, but there may be some solutions. NBC's chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> there just aren't enough doctors in our country. the shortage has hit rural america hard and there may be some solutions. dr. nancy schneiderman for us tonight.

>> hey, sir. how are you?

>> dr. melana jumps from one appointment to the next. her two doctor practice in littlefield, texas, cares for 15,000 patients. some travel 40 minutes to see her.

>> perfect. i just can't physically take care of the amount of people that are here. we turn people away every single day.

>> she is one physician among thousands nationwide who work in areas with too few health professionals to meet the need.

>> right now, we're looking at a shortage of approximately 15 to 20,000 physicians across the country. over the next decade, we're looking at that growing to over 100,000 physicians.

>> to curb the shortage, medical schools have boosted their enrollment by more than 18% since 2002 . some schools like the school of medicine at texas tech university health sciences center are offering accelerated programs and financial incentives.

>> when they offered an accelerated track where i could get out and be doing what i love a year sooner, for me, it was kind of a no brainer.

>> but even if students like kee keely graduate faster, they still need to go through a residency program for more training.

>> the part to have program that is not working right now is the bottleneck we've created between graduates and the available number of physicians.

>> it started in 1997 when congress cut off additional funding to train young doctors. they had introduced the bipart son turning tomorrow's doctors today act to reverse that freeze.

>> the bill would create an additional 15,000 federally funded residencies over the next five years. it's believed this has the potential to alleviate one-third of the physician shortage in the united states . while that will help, experts say having more doctors won't necessarily get them to where they're needed most.

>> physicians cluster more into the urban centers and leave the rural areas and some other areas underserved in the process.

>> innovative medical programs that could offer some relief to physicians and hopefully better care for patients around the country.