Commentary: Idaho's doctor shortage needs a remedy

This editorial appeared in The Idaho Statesman.

Dr. Charles "Fuzzy" Steuart ran an unorthodox medical practice – and not only because he bartered with some patients for payment in deer or elk venison, yard work, or beer or wine.

Steuart was unusual because he decided to set up practice in a desolate outpost in Idaho. He opened a clinic in Arco, partway between Idaho Falls and Craters of the Moon National Monument, where the wind is constant and the population has remained stuck at about 1,000.

Steuart died earlier this fall, leaving his clinic in limbo. His story, chronicled by Corey Taule of the Idaho Falls Post Register and reprinted in Monday's Statesman, illustrates a larger problem in small-town Idaho.

Doctors are scarce. Access to basic, preventive medical care is spotty.

This ought to be the sole focus of Idaho's continuing – and parochial – debate over medical education. How can we improve patient access to doctors, at a price Idaho taxpayers can afford?

Idaho has almost no place to go but up. Its number of physicians per capita ranked No. 49 in the nation in 2006, according to a feasibility study on medical education, completed on behalf of lawmakers by MGT of America Inc.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Idaho Statesman.