Views from Kansas: How to grow professionals

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Unemployment in Kansas stands at 3.3%, according to the Kansas Department of Labor.

But before you jump for joy, take note that Kansas is on a long-term trend of losing jobs. Over the last decade, the state has lost 42,000 positions, dropping from 1.521 million to 1.479 million.

And increasingly, finance, engineering, computer science and health care fields are facing severe shortages.

These problems aren’t necessarily unique to Kansas, but with our population just holding steady, the challenges are all the more pressing.

Careers in medicine are a useful example of the problems our state must work to solve. Nationwide, we’re on course for a shortage of 52,000 primary care physicians by 2025, according to a report by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The problem is twofold.

First, it’s about what type of medicine today’s physicians want to practice. Only about one-third of the physician workforce focuses on family care, with the other two-thirds heading into specialty medicine such as dermatology, cardiology, surgery, etc.

A better balance, according to the AAFP, is for 40% of physicians to focus on general care.

The second problem is that today’s general practitioners are retiring faster than we can replace them.

The best way for Kansas to get more family doctors is to train them here.

Evidence indicates that family physicians are more likely to practice in the states in which they complete their residencies — typically three years of on-hand experience in a hospital and office setting.

Kansas currently has four such training programs scattered among Kansas City, Wichita and Salina, with a fifth program to begin in 2021. The upcoming program is to be a partnership between the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas based in Pittsburg and KU Med School. With a residency program in SEK, it’s not out of the question to expect — or at least hope — some of those graduates stay and practice here.

Between 2011 and 2017, these medical programs produced 272 family physicians in Kansas. Of those, 48% remained in state. The Midwest ranks in the lower half of its counterparts in losing new physicians to other states. Missouri was able to retain only 42% of its new grads; Nebraska 39%, Oklahoma, 48% and Colorado, 50%.

To help offset these declines, the region has worked to attract out-of-state physicians, according to a report by the Robert Graham Center.

About 43% of Kansas’ family physicians are female, with more on the way. Consistent with national trends, the percentage of females enrolled in medical school is higher than that of males.

While not everyone is cut out to pursue an advanced education, it’s more than a little worrisome that high school educators seem to focus more these days on a fast-track education that gets kids out the door and into the workforce.

Careers such as medicine, computer science, engineering, law and business require years of training. Medical school alone is four years of postgraduate work, followed by a residency. Law school is three years of postgraduate work, basic engineering and education are five-year programs and CPAs, seven years.

So yes, it’s a long haul. But most would say the return is for very rewarding careers and lives — which is the very purpose of education.

It’s by promoting education and its rewards that we turn the corner on losing professionals. Around the dinner table, in the classroom, at the ballgame, start the discussion about the value of a good education.

And talk up the beauty of living in Kansas!

— Originally published in The Iola Register


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