"I do know there's a lot of grumbling over medical malpractice,
increased paperwork, government oversights, low reimbursements and
all sorts of other things, but we need every doctor we can get regardless
of how much pressure and heat is put on us."
The Sunday Gazette-Mail examined records from the state Board of
Medicine and the U.S. Census Bureau. In the past 10 years the state has
gained more than 440 doctors with active licenses who practice in
the state. D.O.s or doctors of osteopathy are not included in these
According to U.S. Census information, 3,017 M.D.s were practicing
medicine in West Virginia in 1990. That number grew to 3,525 in
2000, according to state Board of Medicine records.
Year 2000 Census data on physicians practicing in the state is not yet
available, but records from West Virginia University's Office of Health
Services Research show the number of doctors even higher, at
Using Board of Medicine numbers, the state now has 195 doctors
for every 100,000 people in the state, an increase from 1990 when there
were 172 doctors per 100,000.
Though the overall number of doctors continues to rise,
want to practice in rural or poverty-stricken areas.
"As a whole, West Virginia is competing with larger and nicer places
like Chapel Hill, the Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic," said Linda Atkins,
director of health care provider recruitment at the West Virginia
Department of Health.
"Despite the fact that it's extremely difficult to recruit
doctors to rural areas - where the pay is less and there are fewer
amenities - we have been more successful than ever before at placing
doctors in previously underserved areas."
In 2000, 70 percent of the state's licensed M.D.s were based in eight
of West Virginia's 55 counties. The numbers coincide with population
density and whether there is a hospital in the county. Kanawha County led
with 664 doctors, making up 19 percent of the total. Second was
Monongalia with 14 percent, followed by Cabell with 12 percent.
Ohio, Raleigh, Wood, Mercer and Harrison are next in that order.
Although overall numbers have increased and some shifting
between counties has occurred, these rankings are the same as they were in
1996. One difference is that in 1996, one county (Wirt) had no physician,
whereas in 2000 all counties had at least one physician.
Despite the change in Wirt, which now boasts one doctor, most counties
that were medically underserved in 1996 remain that way today.
But the numbers are improving, said Dr. Robert D'Alessandri, dean of
the WVU School of Medicine.
Though the number of applicants to the school has decreased in
recent years - from 1,400 in 1991 to 850 in 2000 - the number
graduating and going into residency programs has remained steady at around
85 per year.
"We're not too concerned about the drop in applicants, because we're
accepting the students at full capacity every year," he said. "And we're
and MCAT scores."
D'Alessandri said some students may be discouraged from applying to
medical school because of disgruntled doctors in the state.
"Doctors here are very vocal about their unhappiness over issues
like medical malpractice and the provider tax, and that is picked up by
Despite this, more graduates are remaining in the state than ever
before, to do their residency and to set up permanent practice,
D'Alessandri said. "Because of our Rural Health Education Program, 40
percent of our graduates remain in the state today, compared with 32
percent a few years ago."
D'Alessandri is also encouraged by a trend of more students wanting to
go into primary care, rather than big-ticket, urban specialties like
Even so, a look at numbers of specialists in the state shows most have
increased slightly or remained stable over the past three years -
with the exception of the Wheeling neurosurgeons.
To contact staff writer Martha Leonard, use e-mail or call 348-1254.