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Primary care crunch

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NORTH HAVEN, Conn. -

Eva Amenta and Timothy O'Rourke will spend the next four years here, learning to be doctors.

"I can't really remember a time I didn't want to be a physician and pursue a career in medicine," Amenta said.

Their timing is good. The country is facing a serious doctor shortage and it's about to get much worse.

"You've heard about the fiscal cliff, I think we're on the verge of a health care cliff," said Dr. Bruce Koeppen, the founding dean of the New Medical School at Quinnipiac University.

Koeppen points out that under President Obama's health care law, 30 million people will be insured for the first time and looking for medical care. But doctors in the U.S. are aging-- one-third of them are planning to retire in the next decade.

"That's almost a quarter of a million physicians that will leave the workforce," Koeppen said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of 130,000 doctors by the year 2025. The biggest crisis is in primary care, the doctors most people go to first when they're sick.

Quinnipiac's goal is for at least 50 percent of its students to become primary care physicians. And it has incentives to make sure it happens. The school offers fellowships to entice students away from the higher paying specialties.

"We need to take into consideration the country as a whole and the huge gap in primary care specifically," O'Rourke said.

So far, plenty of students are ready to answer the call. For the school's first class, 2,000 applied for just 60 spots.

The new health care law is designed to draw more doctors into primary care by boosting Medicare payments to those physicians.

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