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The future of med school

A major concern with health care reform is that it could mean a flood of newly insured patients into doctors' offices, and therefore, a doctor shortage. Depending on how you look at it, it might be a good problem to have. But it's still a problem, and it'll most likely require creative solutions.

The bill itself provides some potential solutions, like increased funding for community clinics and greater use of nurses and doctor's assistants.

But long-term, what's required is extra incentives for people to become doctors, specifically primary care physicians.

A new program at Texas Tech University could be a sign of things to come. Yesterday, the school announced the Family Medicine Accelerated Track (FMAT) -- the first three-year nationally-accredited medical degree. It's half the cost of a traditional medical degree. The chairman of the department Michael Ragain describes it:

"The high cost of medical school and resulting debt are major challenges for many prospective medical students," Ragain said. "Our program addresses debt on two levels, first by shortening the program from four to three years, and second, by providing scholarships to all qualifying students. Training primary care physicians is a national issue that targets both rural and urban areas. With programs such as this, we can double the number of primary care physicians available to care for the U.S. population."

The school says the fourth year of med school is primarily devoted to specializing in a certain area and that the three-year degree will fully prepare students for being primary care doctors.

I remember doing a series many years ago about the shortage of doctors in rural areas, and one thing that stuck with me is that it's not all about economic incentives. Being a primary care physician is tough, especially in a rural setting. There's high burnout. It's also a rewarding job, but the rewards aren't financial compared to being a specialist.

It'll be interesting to see if cutting a medical degree's expense in half and shaving off a year of intense studying can actually double the number of primary care physicians.

We'll explore this further on Marketplace tonight, but what do you think of this idea?

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