Jack Hua is a third year medical school student at Tulane University. "It's such an enormous feat to get into medical school. We've been working hard for a really long time. The specialties make so much more money. Obviously, someone making $150,000 a year is going to be well-off, it's just that when you compare that to $450,000..." he says.
His feelings are nothing unusual. The lure of pay for specialties is one factor contributing to a shortage of primary care physicians in Louisiana.
"When I say primary care physicians, under the federal guidelines, it's General Practice, Family Practice, Pediatrics, OB and Internal Medicine," says Jonathan Chapman, Executive Director of Louisiana Primary Care Association.
"We're working with various residencies and medical schools, trying to get them exposed more to primary care," he explains.
Another issue at hand, medical schools tend to be located in more urban areas. Of the three medical schools in Louisiana, one is in Shreveport and two are in New Orleans. And research suggests that residents will practice only fifty to sixty miles away from where they completed their program.
In order to draw some of those physicians toward the rural areas, the state offers a Loan Repayment Program. "If a physician comes out and agrees to serve in one of these shortage areas," says Chapman, "then they help repay those loans."
According to the federal government, an area is adequately staffed with health professionals when there is one physician for every two thousand residents. Once that ratio reaches one physician for every three thousand residents, the area is considered a Health Professional Shortage Area.
Looking at a map, Chapman says, "probably ninety to ninety-five percent of our state is considered a shortage area or an underserved area."