Lack of ICU doctors presents challenges for healthcare in Idaho

The Gem State currently ranks last in the nation for doctors per capita
Idaho experiencing a shortage of doctors
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 5:10 PM MST
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Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Speaking with leaders in Idaho healthcare, many of the challenges the state has faced during the pandemic can be boiled down to one central issue.

“Frankly, we have a limited number of ICU doctors available in the state of Idaho,” said Director of St. Luke’s Residency Program Dr. Joshua Kern.

Idaho currently ranks last in the nation for doctors per capita.

Now, having fewer doctors in a rural state is common, but Idaho’s rapid population growth has left the medical system behind.

Take for example the two closest populations in the country, Nebraska, which has nearly 70 more doctors per 100,000 residents, and West Virgina, which has over 70 more physicians.

To Dr. Kern, the answer lies in the number of resident doctors in the state.

“For medical students slots per capita in Idaho we rank pretty well,” Dr. Kern said. “It’s graduate medical education slots, residency slots, that we rank right where we do for physicians per capita.”

Another challenge the state faces is the politics that surround the state’s hospitals.

Two doctors I spoke with pointed to the election of Dr. Ryan Cole as a deterrent for those entering the profession.

“The election of a provider who is well seen as not providing evidence-based medicine to the Central District Health Board is exactly the type of thing that will drive physicians who believe in science away,” Dr. Kern said.

“Decisions like that are sending a negative message to the medical community,” said Twin Falls Resident Doctor Lauren Nesbit.

Dr. Nesbit, who was raised in the Magic Valley, tells me she also sees people raised in the area lacking belief in their ability to become care providers.

She hopes to be an inspiration for those in the area, saying if she can do it, anyone can.

“I come from a rural area outside of a small town and the probability of me becoming a physician was pretty low and I was able to do it,” Dr. Nesbit said. “If that’s what you want to be when you grow up, there shouldn’t be anything that stops you from that.”

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