Head of Oklahoma’s biggest pediatric residency program calls for all hands on deck to solve shortage

Oklahoma has a severe shortage of pediatricians to solve.

The state would need an additional 250 pediatricians today to meet the national average per child. Only four states have fewer pediatricians per 100,000 children than Oklahoma: Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota.

OU Health Sciences Pediatric Residency Program Director Dr. Casey Hester said the state’s three training programs bring in up to 36 new pediatricians a year, of which only about a third go to primary care and maybe three or four who choose rural areas. Meanwhile, every year 10 to 20 pediatricians retire.

“Unless we do something about our pediatricians’ staff or we start to collaborate more and become more innovative and creative… we will never catch up, especially in the rural areas. We have to change the way we think about things,” Hester said.

Hester said part of the problem is that the programs that could work together on the problem are in silos. She said she has never had contact with the state rural health office or the Physician Manpower Training Commission, and that residency programs are competitive rather than collaborative.

“How do these things happen over time? And yes, it’s kind of history and politics, just like everything else that we’re all used to and dealing with, but I think there’s such a thing here for all of us opportunity to really work together,” said Hester.

Hester said an obvious solution is to find ways to create more places to stay and therefore more pediatricians, but actively seeking out potential rural doctors is also a good idea.

“And even going back to small towns and saying, ‘Who’s a promising student interested in medicine or healthcare?’ and even as early as high school, high school, really select those students,” Hester said.

Hester also says more pediatricians should be informed about the medical school loan repayment program, through the Physician Manpower Training Commission, which covers up to $200,000 for primary care physicians. General practice, geriatrics, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and emergency medicine physicians are all eligible.

Image by Julio César Velásquez Mejía from Pixabay.

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