FOR years, West Virginians have been told that they need family doctors and not those expensive specialists. Marshall University has become a national leader in producing family physicians.
That is laudatory. Properly compensated, rural physicians can serve the state well.
But West Virginia must also have specialists. It leads the nation in cancer deaths and deaths from diabetes and is No. 2 in deaths from chronic lung diseases.
There are shortages in certain specialties, such as endocrinology, that the state needs to address.
West Virginia would be a natural for an endocrinologist because there are so many people with advanced diabetes and other diseases of the endocrine system.
But while demand for such specialists has increased, the compensation has not. Many if not most of the sickest people in the state are on Medicaid or Medicare, government-run health programs that do not adequately compensate specialists.
Also, endocrinologists have smaller patient loads because they must devote more time to treating individuals.
"You make less money as an endocrinologist than you would as a general practice physician," said Dr. Joseph Shapiro, dean of Marshall's medical school. "Why would you want to train more to make less?"
That is especially true given the expense of medical school, which often leaves new doctors with student loans of $100,000 or more.
Dermatologists also are in short supply for a different reason. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education allows West Virginia University's dermatology residency program to accept only one student each year.
"It's an underserved specialty that's fiercely protective of its domain," Shapiro told Zack Harold of the Daily Mail.
Reducing barriers to competition and increasing government compensation would go a long way toward improve medical care in West Virginia.
Discouraging specialists to save money would hurt West Virginia patients. That's not good medicine.