HOUSTON --There's a doctor shortage in Texas. It's not as bad in Houston as it is in rural areas. Experts predict health care reform will make the problem worse, when millions of people get medical coverage. But Houston is getting some help from a surprising source -- other states. Kelsey-Seybold Cardiologist Rupa Puttappa moved here from the northeast. "My malpractice insurance would drop down tremendously, weather is great, less hurricanes, no state tax, good school system, and Texas Heart Institute is right here," she said. She's one of thousands of doctors leaving other states for Texas. "In our recent recruitment in the past few weeks, I don't think I've seen a local doctor," said Dr. John Burruss, Baylor associate dean. "But I've seen a bunch of people coming in from out of state." In 2005, just less than 3,000 doctors applied to the Texas medical board for a license. Most were graduates of Texas medical schools. But in 2006, applications jumped by 1,000 and have stayed at 4,000 plus every year since. Between January and April 20 of this year, 1,720 of the 2,640 doctors who wanted a medical license are doctors from out of state, most from New York, California, and Florida. "We've had surgeons, psychiatrists, internal medicine docs," Dr. Burruss said. Why? As Dr. Puttappa said, malpractice reform is a big reason. Then there's the Texas Medical Center. "You have all these prestigious institutions; you've got Baylor College of Medicine, University of Texas-Houston," Dr. Brent King of UT Health Emergency Medicine said. "You've got other sister institutions-- M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Children's Hospital, Memorial Hermann, Methodist, St Luke's Ben Taub. All of them right here in this one little pocket." The local economy is still strong enough to offer jobs for spouses. And there's the weather. "I hear all the time, 'I'm tired of the snow.' 'I'm tired of Chicago.' 'I'm tired of upstate New York,'" Dr. Burruss said. A national shortage of doctors is predicted to follow health care reform, but experts here say the migration of doctors, plus the new doctors being trained here, puts Houston in a good position to weather changes. "We train a lot of doctors in Houston, and we have a lot of doctors who stay in our area, and I don't think that Houston is at risk for huge medical shortages," Dr. King said.
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