Nearly half of new physicians in Illinois relocate

Residency and fellowship graduates cite the state's high liability insurance costs as a major reason.

By — Posted Dec. 3, 2010

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Nearly half of all new physicians trained in Illinois residency and fellowship programs are leaving the state after graduation, according to a new study from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Some of the common reasons cited for moving elsewhere are living closer to family and friends, better pay and a desire to flee the state's tough medical liability climate. Many physicians said they plan to go to surrounding states such as Indiana and Wisconsin.

The exodus could have serious repercussions on health care access in Illinois, said Russell Robertson, MD, one of the study's authors and chair of Feinberg's family and community medicine department.

"We're dealing with a national physician shortage. If Illinois is exporting just under half of all of the physicians that it trains, and there are already shortages in some areas of the state, we are going to face some challenges," said Dr. Robertson, also chair of the Council on Graduate Medical Education.

Researchers this spring surveyed 561 new resident and fellow graduates for the 2010 Illinois New Physician Workforce Study, released Nov. 11. Of those leaving the state, 67.6% said high liability insurance costs were a major concern. In February, the Illinois Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the state's noneconomic damage cap of $500,000 for physicians and $1 million for hospitals.

The survey findings are no surprise, said Steven M. Malkin, MD, president of the Illinois State Medical Society. Liability premiums in nearby states are a third to a half of what they are in Illinois. "We know that the malpractice environment is terrible in Illinois, so we realize that not many residents would want to stay in a state with that kind of climate," he said.

Illinois needs to change its medical liability climate, said Dr. Malkin, an Arlington Heights internist.

The study recommends creation of a nonprofit Illinois Physician Workforce Institute to collect and analyze data to inform policymakers and the public (link). The state's General Assembly approved creation of the institute in March, but the effort is unfunded.

Illinois medical schools and residency programs also should evaluate ways to align their admissions policies with the state's needs by considering an applicant's hometown and desire to work in underserved communities, Dr. Robertson said. The survey found that just 1.5% of new physicians plan to work in rural areas.

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