Family doctor shortage expected to grow worse

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

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SEATTLE —

Robie Sterling wants to be a family doctor in a rural community.

These days, that's rare.

"It might not be the easiest lifestyle to be a primary care doctor," said Sterling, a family medicine resident at Sea Mar Community Health Center in Seattle's South Park neighborhood.

The Annals of Family Medicine predicts a nationwide shortage of 52,000 primary care physicians by 2025.

There are lots of reasons medical students don't go into family practice.

Money is the big one.

According to the Medical Group Management Association Physician Compensation and Production Survey: 2014 Report Based on 2013 Data, the median salary for primary care physicians was $232,989, compared to $402,233 for specialists.

With new doctors facing huge medical school debts, salary is a big consideration.

The family doctor shortage is worst in low-income and rural areas.

"We are not training enough primary care physicians to meet the need," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash).

On Wednesday, Murray said she'll push Congress to extend and permanently fund a program that began under the Affordable Care Act to train family doctors in rural and low-income areas.

Murray's office said the Teaching Health Center program this year provided $1.6 million to help train primary care physicians in places that include Yakima, Spokane, Toppenish and Tacoma.

During a roundtable discussion, experts told Murray doctors often work in the places they do their residencies.

"Where you get your residency training makes a big difference, as you heard, in where you do your practice," Murray said.