Head of Oklahoma's largest pediatric residency program calls for innovative solutions amid workforce shortages

Oklahoma would need 250 pediatricians to start work immediately just to meet the national per child average, according to the head of the state's largest pediatric residency program. 

Casey Hester, MD, Oklahoma University Health Sciences Pediatric Residency Program director, told Public Radio Tulsa a combination of factors contributed to the shortage. She said the state’s three training programs produce 36 new pediatricians a year at most, with only about one-third going into primary care, and only three or four choosing rural areas. Meanwhile, 10 to 20 pediatricians are retiring in the state each year.

Dr. Hester added the programs that could be working together to improve the shortage work "in silos" — residency programs are more competitive than collaborative. 

While adding slots to residency programs is an obvious solution, Dr. Hester also suggested looking for potential physicians to work in rural areas. She also said more pediatricians need to be made aware of the state medical school's loan repayment program.

"Unless we do something about our pediatrician workforce or we become more collaborative and innovative and creative...we're never going to catch up, especially in the rural areas," Hester said. "We've got to be changing our thinking on things."

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