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Pay a big factor in the shortage of family care doctors

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

They are the lucky ones. 240 UTHealth Medical School graduates headed to paid training as residents and then on to an American health care market hungry for their services.

Mingled with the jubilation of matching with a hospital willing to teach them is a heavy measure of financial relief.

You see, most American med students are heavily in hock.

"The average debt for a graduating medical student in the United States today is $160,000," said Dr. Wallace Gleason of UTHealth Medical School.

That's why among the youthful MD's, Anthony Burton is a rarity, a talented young physician whose burning desire is to practice family medicine.

"Being a doctor is a real chance to serve the people, showing them healthier ways to live and working through everything with them to live a healthier life," said Burton, headed to a residency at John Peter Smith Hospital In Ft. Worth.

But Burton's medical career track comes with a cost.

After four more years of training he can expect to earn an annual starting salary of 138-thousand dollars - just a fraction of the wages pulled down by his classmates heading into specialty care like radiology, dermatology and cardiology.

Experts say when you combine that earning disparity with a virtual nationwide freeze on the number of available residencies, the country will face a massive shortage of primary care doctors just as millions more Americans get health coverage.

"Imagine you are that person with Medicare who calls to make an appointment with your doctor and they say we can't get you in for three months because no doctor in this office has any availability now," said Dr. LaTanya Love of UTHealth Medical School.

And that according to Dr. Gleason will create a domino effect.

"It could put more burden on the already over stressed emergency rooms," said Gleason.

About half of the family doctors practicing in America today graduated from a foreign medical school.

It's just one measure of demand for care in a nation that's likely to be short 70,000 doctors in two years time.

The experts say heading off a crisis will demand a combination of measures including effective use of nurse practitioners, more tax money to train family doctors and better pay.

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