BY BETSY BLANEY
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech University’s medical school will soon become the first in the U.S. to offer aspiring family doctors a three-year degree at half the cost of a traditional four-year path, university officials said.
The program, which begins this fall, is aimed at addressing a national shortage of family physicians. One study estimates the country will need about 39,000 more family doctors by 2020.
Texas Tech announced the plan Tuesday, the same day President Barack Obama signed health care reform legislation expected to add millions of people to doctors’ patient lists by 2014, when the law’s major provisions take effect.
The three years of medical school will cost about $75,000. After getting their degrees, doctors will spend three years in residency with a family practice. The school also will provide a $13,000 scholarship to each student going into family practice to cover first year tuition and fees.
The four-year program at Texas Tech currently costs students about $150,000.
Dr. Steven Berk, dean of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, said about a dozen of the 140 students who enroll each year typically go into family practice. He hopes the three-year program will double the number.
“We don’t have any doubts that this is going to work,” he said.
The program, called the Family Medicine Accelerated Track, was approved last month by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which accredits medical schools. The committee is jointly sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Council on Medical Education of the American Medical Association.
“It’s just that time is reorganized and the focus is on family medicine,” Barbara Barzansky, a member of the AMA, said of the program.
Berk said many students become surgeons, cardiologists, psychiatrists or go into other specialized fields in order to more quickly pay off their medical school debt, which for four years at Texas Tech is about $150,000.
Paying off half of the debt could be a strong enticement to go into family practice, but Berk said the university also wanted to address the lack of practicing family doctors. A 2006 study by the American Academy of Family Physicians determined that in order for all Americans to achieve adequate access to a primary care physician, the country would need about 39,000 more family physicians by 2020.
“Our school felt some responsibility to come up with a solution to the problem of too few students going into primary care,” Berk said.