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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Most states face a shortage of physicians, and closing some medical schools is not the way to improve the nation’s health care delivery system, the University of Tennessee’s dean of medicine said Thursday.

Dr. Robert Summitt reacted critically to a report by the philanthropic Pew Health Professions Commission which said at least 20 percent of the nation’s medical schools should be closed.

“Before we make major changes in the medical education pipeline, we need to analyze assumptions, data and recommendations,” Summitt said. “The same in my estimation applies to nursing and pharmacy.”

The Pew report said the United States has too many doctors, nurses and pharmacists and should reduce the glut by shutting down at least 20 percent of its medical schools over the next decade.

The report recommended the nation’s 141 medical schools admit 20 to 25 percent fewer students by 2005, reduce nursing education programs 10 to 20 percent and eliminate 20 to 25 percent of the 75 pharmacy schools.

Summitt said the real issue is a shortage of general practitioners in rural areas.

“The fact is that states such as Tennessee still have health profession shortage areas, and so do most of the states in this nation.”

If there is a surplus of physicians, it is because there are too many specialists and not enough general practitioners, he said.

“The big thing people haven’t addressed in a substantive way is rural areas,” Summitt said. “Managed (health) care may not work in rural areas simply because of availability and accessibility.

“If 54 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have a shortage of health care professionals, it’s going to be difficult to convince policy-makers that we have a surplus.”

Dr. Jordan Cohen, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, criticized the Pew report, saying it would be foolhardy “to dismantle the best medical education system in the world.”

Summitt said he agrees with Cohen.

Contact: Dr. Robert Summitt (901-448-5529)