Sonoma County Health Clinic Gets New Tool to Recruit Doctors

In the midst of a severe shortage of family physicians on the North Coast and across the country, the Petaluma Health Center has just been given a tool that will help it recruit more top young doctors.

The federal government recently revised its “health professional shortage area” rating for the Petaluma Health Center, giving it a “19,” the most severe shortage rating for any health center in Sonoma County. The designation makes young doctors and other medical professionals who are willing to work at the health center eligible for federal funds, specialized training and — most importantly — loan forgiveness.

Loan forgiveness could mean the elimination of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in crippling medical school debt, said Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer of Petaluma Health Center. The rating allows the health center to recruit from the National Health Service Corps’ scholarship program.

“The federal government will cover the loans for these individuals if they come to work here,” Toledo said.

Finding new doctors has been difficult for the Petaluma Health Center and other Sonoma County health clinics as they compete with medical giants like Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods and Annadel Medical Group. At the same time, demand for doctors is growing as the number of local residents with health insurance has been boosted by President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

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