By 2036, the unmet demand for primary care physicians in the Gulf Coast public health region—which includes Montgomery County—is anticipated to reach 39%, according to April 2024 data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In Conroe, Sam Houston State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is working to help address the physician shortage. Opening in 2020, the college’s first class graduated in May.

“When [SHSU officials] started thinking about a medical school, they were really looking at what the needs of Texas were,” said COM Dean Thomas Mohr. “We have one of the most incredible medical centers in the world. ... But there is a shortage of primary care physicians, especially in our rural and underserved communities.”

The big picture

In May, the first class of 69 students graduated from SHSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, with 62% of those graduates pursuing primary care specialties and 58% of those graduates staying in Texas, Mohr said.

“Both of those [percentages] really speak to the ‘why’ that we’re talking about,” Mohr said.

In San Jacinto County, immediately northeast of Montgomery County, three primary care physicians serve a population of 29,559—meaning there are 9,853 people to each physician, according to 2023 data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Statewide, Texas is grappling with a shortage of primary care physicians, according to the Health Professions Resource Center at the Texas Department of State Health Services. By 2036, there will be 21,815 doctors but a need for 37,919 doctors—meaning the unmet demand for primary care physicians across the state will reach 42%.

Meanwhile, the U.S. will face a primary care physician shortage of between 20,000-40,400 physicians by 2036, according to a March 2024 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“We are looking at substantial shortages of doctors that will not meet our future health care demands,” AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton said in a March 21 news release.

“Further, if we succeed in improving access to care for our growing and aging population, which we very much hope to do, then the workforce shortages will be even larger than projected in this report.”

What else?

HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe partners with Physician Services to provide nearly 40 doctors and extended providers, CEO Matt Davis said in an email.

“The immense growth in North Montgomery County continues to grow opportunities for new doctors and health care professionals of all kinds,” Davis said.

Davis said the hospital is “extremely excited” about SHSU and its medical school.

“Their commitment to advancing health care and addressing the need for medical professionals is vital to the future of provider care,” he said.

SHSU students complete portions of their clinical rotation requirements with local physicians at HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe, Davis said.

“We are seeing the first group of graduates in 2024, so the connection to our residency programs at HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe and other HCA Houston Healthcare facilities is important,” he said.

Mohr said the college also has a family medicine residency program with Huntsville Memorial Hospital. Additionally, SHSU recently announced a clinical partnership with OakBend Medical Center and the Ibn Sina Foundation to train third- and fourth-year medical students in Fort Bend County, according to a March 12 news release.

“We’re hoping to launch in 2025, but starting residency programs ... [it] has to go through a whole bunch of hoops to get it accredited and ready to go,” Mohr said.

Zooming in

This fall at the College of Osteopathic Medicine, 568 total students are expected to be enrolled for the semester, which includes 102 seniors, according to data provided by SHSU.

While students’ first and second years are spent on campus in Conroe, they move to various communities for further training in their third and fourth years, Mohr said.

“[They are] really seeing real-world medicine in rural and underserved community-based training sites,” Mohr said.

Mohr said students have moved to places like Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Texarkana and Beaumont.

“We are bringing people from these communities and then we train them in their third and fourth year back in those communities,” Mohr said. “If you came from Corpus [Christi] or Victoria ... that’s where you’re going to go back for your third and fourth year. And the likelihood of you actually coming back [to] practice in those areas of need ends up being much, much higher.”

SHSU’s fall 2024 enrollment is anticipated to include 568 students, according to data provided by the university.

  • 162 freshmen
  • 164 sophomores
  • 140 juniors
  • 102 seniors

Additionally, according to SHSU:

  • Around 2,000 applicatinos are received each year
  • Approximately 750 applicants are interviewed
  • 162 students will be accepted into each class starting fall 2024

Looking ahead

In the next five to 10 years, Mohr said he would like to see more of the college’s student doctors staying in Texas or deciding to come back to the state to practice.

“I want to see a larger percentage of them going into smaller communities that are the places in need so we can really start to move the needle on access to care,” he said.

Mohr said he also would like to see the rural areas in Texas being taken care of when it comes to health care access.

“Health care access is infrastructure,” he said. “It’s the same as water or roads or sanitation. You can’t grow or sustain a rural community unless you have health care access as well.”