For the majority of retirees living in smaller towns and cities of New York State, it is trouble ahead. At a time when they need more medical services, fewer young doctors want to work where they live.
"It's hard to get people to come back here," says Dr. Struck, an internist whose practice consists primarily of older patients. "It's not a popular place."
According to a recent report by the State University at Albany School of Public Health's Center for Health Workforce Studies, a crisis is looming unless cities like Binghamton roll up their sleeves and start working harder to recruit more doctors.
Official figures give that about 24,000 doctors from the U.S complete their training each year. A study released in 2006 by the United States Department of Health and Human Services predicted a 15 percent increase in the number of physicians practicing nationwide by 2020, to 951,700. Yet some medical experts say this will not suffice.
In New York, the study found 6 percent growth in the number of doctors practicing medicine in the state from 2001 to 2005, for about 77,000 doctors. However, the way they are spread throughout the state is wildly uneven. While newly licensed doctors flock to New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, where there is already a glut, far fewer choose to practice in the vast upstate region. During the years the study was conducted, Essex County in the Adirondacks lost 22 percent of its doctors, while there was a 19 percent increase in Nassau County, on Long Island.
In addition, as doctors upstate retire, recruiting replacements is becoming more difficult. "I worry that new physicians may not see certain areas in the state as viable or attractive," says a top official at Albany School of Public Health's Center.
Statistics show a steady exodus of jobs and a decline in prosperity in upstate New York.
As a result, patients upstate must wait longer for appointments and surgical procedures or face longer commutes for treatment.
Incidentally, the Albany study has made some people sit up and take notice. In the spring, United States Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York introduced legislation, which is still in committee, aimed at directing $200 million in federal funds toward recruiting efforts, from providing grants to doctors who choose to practice in underserved areas to developing programs for young people considering careers in health care.
Otherwise, as Senator Schumer warns, upstate hospitals may soon be "stretched to the breaking point."