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Arizona is facing a shortage of primary care physicians. Rural communities are often hit hardest

Nearly a third of Americans don’t have a primary care physician due to an ongoing and worsening provider shortage. For those living in rural parts of the country, it can be even more difficult to access care. 

Arizona isn’t alone when it comes to a shortage of primary care physicians.

"And it really is based on the dynamics of a population in the United States that's growing older," said Dr. Doug Spegman, chief clinical officer at El Rio Health, a community health center in Tucson, 

The workforce is also aging. He says 40% of the clinicians in the state are family medicine physicians, "and 40% or more of those family medicine clinicians are retiring within the next few years."

Another challenge, explains Dr. Felipe Perez, the director of medical and health professions at El Rio Health, comes down to money. 

"The cost of going to college and medical school has significantly increased a lot over the last decade and so we have medical students that are graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt," Perez said.

He says primary care has a lower reimbursement rate compared to other specialties, making it tough to pay off loans.

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KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.