Cancer concerns caught in crisis crossfire

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY (WCIA) -- It could be years before SIU's Simmons Cancer Institute can find doctors with ties to Central Illinois trained and convinced to stay put.

The center was working on a program to recruit top-notch med school graduates focused on cancer treatments, but the budget impasse shut those plans down.

Now, leaders at the center want to pick up where they left off. If things don't start to pick up, experts say there will be a nationwide shortage of doctors specializing in cancer treatments.

"We are still trying to recruit oncologists," says SIU Simmons Cancer Institute Executive Director Dr. Aziz Khan.

In places like Central Illinois, the pressure to recruit is amplified.

"When people are trained in big cities, all on the coast, they tend to stay there," says Khan.

The state's budget crisis didn't help attract potential candidates.

"If you can't retain faculty, it becomes very difficult to then go back and recruit and it's terribly expensive."

SIU's Medical Center experienced major spending cuts during the state's two-year crisis, making it hard to retain staff and impossible to launch a fellowship program to recruit new doctors.

"It was very frustrating."

"The budget is impacting all areas of Illinois, but we're feeling it here."

Cancer survivor, Dr. Jane Arbuthnot, received treatment at the center 17-years ago. She says it's important for Central Illinois' patients to have care nearby.

"With chemotherapy, it's huge because you have all these side effects," says Arburthnot.

She says staying close to home allowed her to keep living her life.

"I was able to continue my practice. How much better could that be?"

She, like many, hopes the shortage can be resolved.

"We'll have to wait and see," says Khan. 

This summer, the program would have welcomed two new doctors, but instead, they're just hoping to restart the paperwork.

The hospital's board is facing an estimated 10% cut. If the fellowship program gets the green light to continue, it could take two years just to get new recruits.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates, by 2025, demand for cancer treatment will have grown by 42%. The estimate the number of doctors able to treat patients will only grow by 28%. At that rate, there could be a shortage of more than 1,487 oncologists.

Wednesday, Senator Dick Durbin (D) announced $60 million in funding for community healthcare centers. SIU will receive $2 million.

 

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