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Release: Immediate

UI sponsors event for Iowa communities seeking family doctors

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Help wanted: Iowa communities need family doctors.

Despite a decline in demand for family physicians, jobs for these doctors are available in 112 Iowa towns. Representatives from more than 50 of these communities will attend the Family Practice Opportunities Fair, an annual event that links medical professionals with communities that need their services.

The University of Iowa College of Medicine and the Iowa Family Practice Residents Council will host the event Saturday, Aug. 23, from 1-5 p.m. at the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines. Hospitals, clinics, and community groups will sponsor booths visited by 90 family medicine resident physicians and 15 physician assistant students training in Iowa.

For more than 20 years, the event has helped communities meet their need for medical professionals, says Roger Tracy, director of the Office of Statewide Clinical Education Programs at the UI medical college. Currently, there are 152 private practice opportunities for family physicians across Iowa, down from a peak of 334 in 1988.

"The number of opportunities for family practice physicians has come down, in part because some towns are no longer recruiting," Tracy says. He attributes the decline to successful recruiting efforts and changes in the health care system.

Since the 1970s, the UI has tracked practice opportunities and characteristics of Iowa's physician population. Recent years have brought the state net gains in the number of practicing family doctors, a contrast to previous years in which Iowa barely kept up with physician losses to retirement, death, relocation or other factors.

In 1996, Iowa attracted 74 new family physicians and lost 53, for a net gain of 21 -- substantially more than the 10-year average gain of two. It was the second consecutive year in which the state gained more than 20 family doctors.

Today, fewer small communities support full-time doctors, instead receiving medical care from satellite clinics affiliated with health care organizations in larger cities. Much of the current demand for family physicians and other general practitioners comes from these organizations.

Last year, nearly half the new doctors who began practice in the state were family physicians, general internists, or pediatricians -- dubbed primary care doctors for their role in treating most common health problems. The growth in primary care reflects a greater reliance on generalists rather than specialists, as well as the popularity of primary care careers among recent medical school graduates.

This year, more than half of UI College of Medicine graduates chose to enter training programs in primary care. "These trends are consistent with changes in our curriculum over the past two to three years," Tracy says, noting that UI medical students spend more time in primary care rotations and community settings.

Family medicine is an area of particular strength for the college. Twenty-seven percent of this year's medical class entered residency programs in the specialty, including the Statewide Family Practice Training Program coordinated by the UI at nine Iowa sites.

Most of those registered for Saturday's event are residents in the statewide program. Last year, 70 percent of its graduates stayed in Iowa to begin their careers, an all-time high. Continued strong interest in family medicine and Iowa practice opportunities indicates that the state will continue to sustain gains in family doctors, Tracy says.

Co-sponsors of the event include the Iowa Academy of Family Physicians and the Iowa Medical Society.