I-Team: Study Shows Nevada Facing Critical Doctor Shortage - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Study Shows Nevada Facing Critical Doctor Shortage

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LAS VEGAS -- Nevada ranks dead last when it comes to the availability of surgeons and other medical professionals. That was the finding of research done at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Patients who suffer with chronic pain know what it is like to wait months to see a specialist. The shortage of doctors in Nevada is at a critical level and isn't expected to improve anytime soon.

It's a wonder that Ginny Depaso can even get on an exercise bike, let alone ride it. Just months ago, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.

"It was so excruciating, I felt that there was no one out there to help me," Depaso said.

She discovered the hard way that Nevada is suffering a doctor shortage. Ranked among the last in the nation for availability of doctors, Depaso's crippling pain grew worse with the delay.

She was told it was a six-month wait to see a rheumatologist and a few months to see an endocrinologist. All this time, her condition was worsening.

There's three main locations for doctors to get training in southern Nevada. The University of Nevada, Reno maintains a small presence in the south. The state's focus has always been up north. Private colleges Touro and Roseman are expanding and trying to fill in the gap.

Doctors practice surgery techniques at the Oquendo Training Center near McCarran International Airport. The Oquendo Center was built as a veterinary college until it was realized the medical doctor shortage was more pressing. However, nearly all of the doctors training at the Oquendo Center are from out of state. Nevada doesn't have enough doctors in training to use this state of the art training center.

An old law keeps Nevada hospitals from hiring doctors directly. University Medical Center CEO Brian Brannman says that forces new Nevada doctors to gather up lots of money to start their own practice.

"I think a lot of the young physicians are not necessarily striking out on their own and being an entrepreneur and a business person. They want to be on the clinical side," Brannman said.

Doctor and state Senator Joe Hardy, a Republican from Boulder City, got bipartisan support for a bill he believed would have made it easier for doctors to come to Nevada.

"One of the things that we can do is we can say hospitals should be allowed to hire doctors. So when you are a resident and coming out of residency, you want to work for somebody now, instead of set up your own shop with hundreds of thousands of dollars expenses," Hardy said.

Senator Hardy's bill passed both the Assembly and Senate with overwhelming support, but failed to meet a crucial deadline by the end of this year's session. Nevada lawmakers did have enough time to discuss picking a state dog and a state drink.

"Welcome to the Legislature," Hardy said.

The medical community projections are grim. The training of doctors in southern Nevada continues to be outpaced by the population growth. After trying and failing to find a Las Vegas doctor for her crippling arthritis, Ginny Depaso went to Los Angeles for care. After more than a year, she did find a doctor in Las Vegas.

"No help, no referrals and I felt as if nobody cared," she said.

One other concern hospital administrators have about doctor training is that they're uncertain how the Affordable Care Act will affect them. UMC officials said federal help to train doctors is drying up next year.

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