More than 80% of Louisiana parishes are facing real challenges when it comes to getting health care to their rural residents.
Rural doctors across the state tend to be older than their big-city counterparts. As they move closer to retirement, a looming doctor shortage means rural residents will have to drive much farther for basic medical care..
John Grady is a fourth year medical student at LSU Health - Shreveport. He's from Tallulah, a small town in northeast Louisiana.
"Got interested in medicine pretty early," said Grady.
He plans to set-up shop there when he finishes school so he can take care of his hometown.
"Absolute demand. I hope the doctors back home can hold out," said Grady.
As in many other rural areas across the ArkLaTex, most of the doctors could retire over the next ten years in Tallulah, and there's no one to take their place.
"Some people like it, some people don't. It's more - you take care of more stuff," said Grady.
Students who want to do a specialty like cardiology or orthopedics (and make more money) have to work in places like Shreveport.
"Generalists are really what fit best in small communities," said Dr. Stephen Taylor, Vivian Physician.
Generalists like Taylor say they treat anyone and anything in Vivian.
"Cradle to grave," said Taylor.
Taylor says he loves his practice, but he understands why most medical students choose to practice in larger cities.
"Unfortunately our rural areas aren't thriving economically," said Taylor.
The rural lifestyle is another hurdle for recruiting doctors to places like Vivian since there's not much to do as there is in the bigger cities. And the need continues to grow as the population in rural areas continues to age.
"Little tougher to take care of, more complex problems, transportation issues, they need local care," said Taylor.
Dr. Taylor's solution? Putting more resources into finding the right candidates for the job. Candidates like John Grady.
"The challenge is to get people that are from the smaller towns and want to go back," said Grady.
There is hope as more financial incentives are put into place to help recruit doctors for under-served areas.The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals helps pay student loans for medical students willing to work in rural communities. The federal government also offers tax credits to these doctors through the affordable health care act.
"It's getting better as salaries for primary care starts getting more competitive with specialists. Then, it'll help," said Grady.
Easier access to local health care could also save us all money in the long run.
"How much it brings cost/benefits and efficiency to it. We'll figure out we need to put more resources in it," said Taylor.