NORTH ADAMS -- A shortage in primary care physicians isn't unique to the city or to Berkshire County, according to Northern Berkshire Healthcare (NBH) officials who spoke about the issue during the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's recent monthly forum.
"I think many people in our community say, ‘Woe is us. Nobody wants to come and live here.' But, that's not the case," Bonnie Clark, NBH's physician liaison, said.
Clark, who recruits physicians and specialists for North Adams Regional Hospital and NBH, its parent company, explained how she spent seven months working to recruit a single physician. In the end, the physician opted for a position in Texas.
"Sometimes it comes down to personal needs and decisions," she said at the Friday forum.
NBH CEO and President Timothy Jones said the primary care physician shortage is a challenge that is being faced by every state in the nation.
"The [estimates of primary care] shortage numbers go from mid-50,000 per year to a couple hundred-thousand over the next so many decades. So we do have a challenge," he said. "It's not a Berkshire County issue. It's not a North Adams issue. It's a national issue."
He added, "We, as a system -- in terms of training physicians as a nation -- we have it backwards. In regard to training, 70 percent of graduating physicians go into specialties. Only 30 percent go into primary care. In most other industrialized nations, it's the exact opposite. So it's based on how the system is structured."
But solving the shortage isn't as simple as turning out more doctors who go into primary care.
"We need to look at this from a county-wide perspective, in terms of the delivery of care in the future," Jones said. "We really need to look at it from that perspective -- how we are going to provide care in the county, not just locally. In today's world, can health care organizations like ours be all things to all people? It's just not possible. It's insurmountable in terms of cost. The cost curve in health care is on a trajectory that cannot continue. It's not sustainable."
He believes that part of the solution is looking at physician recruitment from a different perspective -- providing primary care through a team perspective that includes nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurse midwives working in tandem with primary care doctors.
Dr. Anthony Smeglin, president of Williamstown Medical Associates (WMA), said the physicians' group now has more nurse practitioners and physician's assistants on staff than it does primary care doctors. WMA has 16 primary care physicians.
"Our nurse practitioners and physician's assistants work in a team fashion with our doctors," he said. "They do the legwork and the chronic care appointments. They are better at educating our patients. At first there was some resistance, but the community has embraced this model. It's not second class service -- it's better patient care and it's the reality of the world."
Eileen Michaels, owner of Harris Brand Recruiting, who helps NBH recruit physicians at the national level, said that most times, physicians make their final choices based on personal needs -- their lifestyle and family.
"I've seen a lot of success in the Albany, N.Y.-area after a nonprofit organization, TechValley Connect, was formed to help connect relocating professionals, their spouses and children not only with jobs, but with sports teams and other amenities," she said. "A calendar of community events and lists of organizations is recruiting gold. It's something I think is pretty doable for this area, considering all of the agencies and organizations gathered here today."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email