Aging doctors: Looming retirements worry rural areas
California has the nation's oldest doctor population, and in few places is it more evident than in scenic, rural Mendocino County, where more than half the physicians are 56 or older. Hospital administrators, experts and the physicians themselves worry about who is going to care for the sick and elderly -- baby boom doctors are retiring just as members of their generation are themselves heading into old age -- and the answers are not satisfying.
Californians are getting older, and so are their physicians. In isolated places, such as the town of Ukiah in Mendocino County, fears are rising that as greater numbers of doctors retire, there won’t be enough to take their place.
The Center partnered with The San Francisco Chronicle on this project.
In the 36 years he’s been practicing medicine in the “Gateway to the Redwoods,” as this picturesque northern California town of 6,000 bills itself, internist Bruce R. Andich, 65, has helped myriad patients accept the often painful truths of getting old.
“We’ve grown old together,” he says. “I just got my Medicare card. It’s a very sobering experience.”
Dermatologist Richard McClintock is 77 years old, small-town and old-school to the core. The modest clapboard home that has served as his medical office since 1970 doesn’t even have a computer. Four decades of patient files fill two converted bedrooms.
To say that McClintock is a fixture in Ukiah would be putting it mildly.
Cathy Frey has few illusions when it comes to enticing newly-minted, urban-oriented physicians to live and work in rural California.
“It’s a horrid problem,” says Frey, executive director of the Alliance for Rural Community Health in Ukiah. “It’s beautiful here, but somebody new coming out of medical school, this is kind of like no man’s land.”
Dr. Michael Carnevale grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles and couldn’t wait to trade the big city for the tranquillity of a life amid pine forested wilderness.
With help from a government-funded program, he found that life in Mendocino County after graduating in 1993 from medical school in Texas.