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Committee rejects bill offering scholarships to encourage more rural doctors

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee last week indefinitely held over a bill that would have provided for a scholarship to lure young doctors to practice in rural Alabama.  The move effectively kills the legislation to provide doctors scholarships for this legislative session.

Senate Bill 210 was sponsored by Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, who is also a medical doctor.

SB210 would have phased in the provision of 100 scholarships per year for students who commit to practice family medicine for at least five years in underserved areas of Alabama.

Stutts said that Alabama currently has a shortage of 270 primary care physicians and that is even worse in rural Alabama.  The average age of primary care physicians in Alabama has been rising and is currently 51.5 years of age.

Stutts said that the reason these scholarships require that the physicians work five years in rural Alabama is that makes them more like to put down roots there and stay there.

“National statistics show that 65 to 70 percent of physicians stay in the state where they do their residency,” Stutts said. “A lot of students complete medical school with a large amount of debt.”

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Stutts said that family practice is required in this because small rural counties need family practitioners that can see children all the way to older people and even deliver babies.

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Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, said that is already a scholarship program in place for doctors.

“I serve on this board and we gave 9 scholarships at $160,000 a year,” Dial said. “Last year we had 30 applicants we interviewed fifteen and nine got funding.  There is definitely a need for this.  I would like your bill better if you had some money attached to it.”

Stutts said that the current scholarship usually goes to third or fourth-year medical students.

Dial said that there are sharp, smart individuals out there in need of scholarships.

State Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, said of the 23 of the applicants of the current scholarship program did not get scholarships.

“The issue is about money,” Whatley said. “If we put the money into it we have the mechanism to do this.”

Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, introduced a motion to indefinitely postpone SB210. The committee agreed with only Dial supporting Stutts’ bill.  SB210 is likely dead for this session.

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