A legislative plan to woo doctors to underserved areas

In a recent blog, my colleague Richard Kipling wrote about a funding threat to a popular program that introduced dozens of doctors to medically needy areas with no more carrot than a $700 stipend. 

As California braces for the demands of health reform amid a physician shortage in rural and inner city areas, health professionals are trying to keep such efforts alive -- and introduce new ones.

Enter the California Medical Association, and its support for State Assembly Bill 589, which would open up a second front in the campaign to get doctors to areas that need them most.

The bill would provide medical students a $105,000 scholarship in exchange for a written commitment to practice three years in a medically underserved community.

If the details sound familiar, that’s because the model is based on the popular Steven M. Thompson Loan Repayment Program, which grants doctors the same amount in debt relief.

The new effort, dubbed the Steven M. Thompson Medical School Scholarship Program, would not only catch aspiring doctors on the front end.

It would give young men and women from humble economic backgrounds some hope that they could afford to become a doctor – and ultimately give back.

“If those students have the opportunity to go to med school, it’s more likely they will go back home to practice,” said CMA spokeswoman Molly Weedn, citing medical workforce briefs that documented such trends.

A doctor returning home to the tough neighborhood or small town whence he or she came almost sounds quaint.  But that’s the aim of Assembly Bill 529.

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