Trend: Rural doctor shortage could get worse

With the supply of foreign physicians coming to the United States slowing down, observers say the national shortage of rural physicians is only going to get worse. Right now, there are 280 doctors for every 100,000 people in the U.S., but only 103 for every 100,000 in more rural areas, for example, in the 18-county area which makes up the Mississippi Delta. Overall, the government estimates it would take 16,000 doctors to fill even the immediate needs of under-served rural areas.

Traditionally, foreign-born physicians have filled some of these gaps. However, a stiffening entry requirements springing partly from the war on terrorism have slowed the flow of applications for the J-1 visa waiver used by such immigrant doctors. The number of physicians in training with J-1 visa waivers has fallen steeply over the last decade, from 11,600 in academic year 1996-97 to fewer than 6,200 in 2004-05. At the same time, the federal government has tightened the requirements for obtaining the J-1 visa.

To learn more about this issue:
- read this Associated Press article

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