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Letters to the editor

October 26, 2003

Thanks so much



To the editor:

I am taking this opportunity to formally thank some of the finest people I've ever had the pleasure of working with especially during a potentially trying and dangerous situation.

During the past week, several state, county, and city departments demonstrated their partnership with non-profit agencies, private businesses and elected officials in preparing for what could have been a horrible natural disaster.

Yes, there are some in our community who suffered from Hurricane Isabel's visit. There were power outages, some river flooding and damage from downed trees. Fortunately, our community was spared the worst Isabel had to offer.

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For those who are not aware, the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services is responsible for planning, preparing, coordinating, and the recovery from responses to natural and man-made disasters impacting the citizens of Berkeley County. I could not do my job without the assistance, expertise and cooperation of government and community agencies. This is truly a partnership, for it takes all of our specialized degrees of operation to respond to our community's needs.

I have no doubt that if we are again faced with another natural or man-made disaster, our community will again pull together and take the task head-on.

Stephen S. Allen, Director

Berkeley County Office

of Emergency Services

Martinsburg, W.Va.

Primary care sadly neglected



To the editor:

Across the country, hundreds of health professions schools will commemorate National Primary Care Week-Oct. 19-25. Several recent articles in medical journals have highlighted the decline in medical students' interest in primary care. This trend has serious implications for our health care system and our capacity to respond to the nation's future health care needs. National Primary Care Week celebrates how valuable primary care health professionals are to the nation's health.

It is of vital importance that the tide against primary care turns. In the last 20 years, managed care has relegated primary-care physicians to the status of "gatekeepers" and reimbursement for preventive and primary care from both private and public payers has continued to decrease, further eroding the incentives for students to select primary care.

The U.S. medical education system has reinforced this shift from primary to specialty careers by loading students with enormous debt. With an average debt burden of $104,000 on graduation, many future physicians feel compelled to select higher-paying specialties.

However, a robust primary care workforce is inextricably linked to a healthy national health care system. The U.S. spends more money on health care than any other country, yet 43 million Americans are uninsured. Recent studies demonstrate that states with higher primary care physician-to-population ratios have better health outcomes.

Yet, our health care system does not provide access to primary care to prevent the major causes of death in our country. How can medical students possibly stay afloat in this health care system and select primary care as a career?

Without a major shift in our health care system, I fear America may enter a downward spiral. Fewer students will choose low-paying, less prestigious primary-care careers, further limiting patients' access to essential care. The system will tilt more and more to the care of the sick, and focus less and less on prevention of disease.

U.S. health care spending already exceeds 13 percent of the gross domestic product. The consequences of managing and treating a sicker population would wreak havoc on our already depressed national economy.

It is the responsibility of the nation's health professions schools to recruit high-quality students into primary rather than specialty careers. National Primary Care Week is not the ultimate answer to the nation's health care woes, but by highlighting this vital field, we can encourage today's health professional students to be part of the solution.

Lauren Oshman, M.D.

National President

American Medical

Student Association

Reston, Va.

Correction

Due to an error by the editorial page editor, an item in the Oct. 18 "thumbs" column questioned why the Washington County Commissioners honored Ofc. Brett McKoy as Washington County's Most Wonderful Citizen for his work with the Hagerstown Area Police Athletic League, even though a county agency terminated PAL's grant earlier this year.

The commissioners were not involved in the award selection process.

The Herald-Mail regrets the error.

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