Researchers at UAMS are reporting a "severe shortage" in primary care doctors in Arkansas.
They say the vacancies are poised to become a real problem for the state's residents if it's not reversed soon.
Meanwhile, the health care law, which U.S. House GOPs are working to repeal, is expected to increase the number of patients able to receive medical care across the country. But in Arkansas, there may not be enough doctors to take care of them.
The director of the UAMS Center for Rural Health, Ann Bynum, says the physician shortage has been a long time issue here in the state and needs to be addressed before all Arkansans begin feeling the domino effect.
For at least three years now, family medicine resident Ken Suh at UAMS has been on a personal campaign.
"I encourage the students who rotate in family medicine to choose family medicine as their specialty," Dr. Suh said.
This year, Suh is set to graduate with only five other students into a field practically begging for employees.
"The gap in deficit is definitely there and it's not something that we can ignore," said Suh.
In an earlier interview Bynum echoed the same message.
"Critical for us as a state to be able to produce workforce that can take care of our elderly and our real population," she said.
Bynum is also a researcher at the rural health center. In a 2007 study she discovered at least 1,000 unfilled positions for primary care doctors in Arkansas.
"These are budgeted vacancies that exist," Bynum said. "We found that there were shortages in 88 health professions in Arkansas."
Bynum is in the process of updating the 2007 data.
"We think we will find that there will be more shortages than we found during these last three years," she said.
The vacancies, especially those in primary care, pose a real problem for the state that ultimately could mean less medical access for all Arkansans.
"Primary care physicians are essential to our health care system. This is where you get the most cost effective medical treatment because if people don't have access to primary care physicians they'll usually go to the emergency room," said Bynum.
Dr. Suh says this eventually means there will be more delay in care for everybody.
And so, as the problem persists, the family medicine resident continues his mission to convince new medical students to choose family medicine over other specialties.
"We need them. Arkansas needs them. And overall, this country needs more family physicians.
Researchers believe one reason for the shortage in primary care doctors in Arkansas is that they don't make as much money as doctors in specialty care," said Dr. Suh.
Filling the vacancies will mean expanding training programs and as Dr. Suh is doing, recruiting more people into the field.
UAMS, in its process to update Arkansas' doctor shortage, currently has about 4,000 surveys circulating at health facilities across the state.
New results should be available towards the end of this year.