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Programs to bring doctors to small towns successful, study says

Dr. Turner
Dr. Thane Turner returned to his home town of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, to practice medicine.
CNN's Cynthia Tornquist reports on the country's need for small town doctors
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February 14, 1999
Web posted at: 9:05 a.m. EST (1405 GMT)

From Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist

LOCK HAVEN, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Dr. Thane Turner could have become a big city doctor with a specialty. Instead, he chose family medicine and treats patients in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania -- his hometown of about 9,000.

"It was important to me to find a community where I could know people and have an impact," Turner said.

Across the United States, small towns like Lock Haven have found it increasingly difficult to attract physicians. Many are lured away by big salaries and the prestige of practicing in cities and suburbs.

"We simply can't tell physicians where they are going to practice," said Dr. Lanny Copeland of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "They choose to go wherever they wish. Likewise, they can also choose the specialty they enter."

Some medical schools are trying to remedy the problem by offering programs in family medicine geared to those like Turner who grew up in rural areas and are more likely to return. It's working.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which focused on Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, found that 34 percent of the students who graduated from the program between 1978 and 1991 took up practice in the country. Most have stayed.

"Many of the programs around are modelled on things similar to what you see on the TV show, "Northern Exposure," where students from urban areas are given incentives to practice in underserved areas," said Jefferson's Howard Ravinowitz. "Most of those physicians practice in shortage areas for a relatively small time.

"Our program is successful in the fact that we choose people who, as their career goals, really do want to practice in rural family medicine for their professional career."

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Journal of the American Medical Association
American Academy of Family Physicians
Thomas Jefferson University
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