UMC could face shortages in trauma unit

The University of Mississippi Medical

Center will soon have only two surgeons in it's trauma unit, and

that could make for a critical shortage until positions can be


Six positions are budgeted for the 2007-08 year - which begins

July 1 - but long hours and low pay have made them difficult to

fill, UMC officials say.

Nursing shortages and residents' restricted hours coupled with

the trauma surgeon shortages have overloaded physicians and led the

hospital to close several critical-care beds.

So far patients have not been diverted to other hospitals, said

Dr. James Hughes, UMC's interim chairman of the department of


Instead, general surgeons and other physicians have helped pick

up the workload.

"I have been absolutely impressed with the stepping up to the

plate I've seen here," Hughes said. "Of course, it's caused

stress for all our surgeons, but I feel that next year we will be

able to fill those spots."

In the 2006-07 fiscal year, which ends Saturday, there were five

budgeted trauma positions, according to records The Clarion-Ledger

received through a public records request.

Three technically were filled, but one surgeon has been on

military leave since August 2005 and another, who went on personal

leave May 9, is ending her employment with UMC on Saturday,

according to a article.

As a result, one trauma surgeon worked the center for most of


On July 2, Dr. John Porter will join the faculty as chief of the

Division of Trauma and Critical Care.

While Porter's arrival technically means half of UMC's trauma

slots are filled, one of the three surgeons still is likely to be

on military leave.

"We're actively recruiting for the positions," Hughes said.

For Mississippi, the health of UMC's trauma center is especially

important, as it is the only Level 1 facility in the state. A Level

1 facility has research and academic medical centers with

specialists present 24 hours a day.

The Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center in Memphis, which

shares in state funding because it serves many north

Mississippians, is the next closest.

Across the country, trauma centers are sharing UMC's plight

though. In 2006, about 40 percent of the trauma fellowships at

universities were vacant, said Connie Potter, executive director of

the National Foundation of Trauma Care.

"Why? They don't make any money. They have lousy hours. Trauma

is a nocturnal, weekend disease, and now work is all about

lifestyle," Potter said. "People want a well-balanced life, and I

don't blame them."

On average a trauma surgeon will make about $180,000 a year, she

said, whereas a general elective surgeon may make twice that

amount. A high percentage of uncompensated care coming through

trauma centers is partially to blame for the lower salaries.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,