More doctors needed in the state of South Dakota

Hannah Baker

The BOR hopes to increase the number of medical students in S. D.  potentially increasing the number of doctors in the state.


More and more medical students leave South Dakota in pursuit of larger areas to practice medicine.

The South Dakota Board of Regents wants to increase the M.D. program in hopes of keeping more doctors in South Dakota.

The request was made as a proactive measure so that South Dakotans will continue to receive high-quality health care in the future.

“We need more doctors, nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners in the state of South Dakota,” said Janelle Toman, communications director for the BOR. “This state is graying and getting older. Obviously an aging population needs more healthcare providers to serve the coming need. That is critical and we need more in this state.”

The state’s only M.D. program at the University of South Dakota has 52 students entering its program each year. Toman said the BOR has drafted a proposal to send to Govenor Daugaard for additional funding to increase this number to 67 by 2013. The size of the program would increase from 208 to 268 students by 2017 — a 28.8 percent increase.

The BOR said increasing the Sanford School of Medicine class size from 52 to 67 could partially address the physician shortage in South Dakota. The BOR predicts the increase could potentially yield seven more doctors per year for South Dakota.

“It’s always a struggle to keep a lot of graduating doctors in South Dakota,” Toman said. “Obviously the need is there and it would be a disservice to South Dakota not to at least attempt to address it.”

Although she plans on applying to several other medical schools, sophomore pre-med student Erin Dunlap said USD is on her list of contenders.

“The lower tuition is definitely intriguing. However, I also see going away to med school as a way to travel and see a new area,” she said. “USD is still appealing, though.”

Toman said the issue came to light after the USD medical program came to the BOR with the idea. The BOR then wrote its proposal and will send it to Daugaard for consideration. If he approves of the proposal it will be sent as part of his budget request to the South Dakota legislature for final approval during the next legislative session.

“We are trying to be proactive about this issue,” Toman said. “We’re putting the issue out on the table and seeing what we can do.”

Dunlap said she is in favor of the possibility of a program expansion at USD.

“I think it’s really great because we need more doctors in South Dakota and it’s encouraging to know that my chances of getting into med school increase as well,” said Dunlap.

However, approving such an increase comes at a price. The estimated cost of adding an extra 15 students per year to the M.D. program is roughly $2.1 million and would cover salaries, benefits, and operating expenses, along with other costs for additional faculty.

The BOR’s proposal also says the increase would require three additional rural track site coordinators to accommodate the growth. The proposal says an increased class size increases the need for recruitment of clinical faculty within each department, mentoring and professional development, and travel to rural sites — all contribute to the $2.1 million price tag.

“Medical school is one of the most expensive programs and the reason is simple: Students are out traveling and working with other doctors. It’s not just all book learning. There’s lots of lab work and following other doctors on how to do your procedures,” Toman said.

Toman said the funding for this proposal would come from the South Dakota’s general tax revenue that everyone pays taxes toward.

The BOR said securing the funding is a goal that must be met before the program expansion process can continue.

“Then we’ll know if it’s going forward,” Toman said.