ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 26 -- Officials of the Maryland attorney general's office and the state medicial society voiced strong support today for Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to overhaul the system for disciplining doctors.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Michael Dobridge, president-elect of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, joined Schaefer at a news conference this morning where he announced his plan to seek a major increase in staff and funds to beef up a discipline system widely viewed as lax and ineffective.

"We do have a problem," Dobridge said. The Schaefer legislative proposal, which for the first time would provide for state investigators to look into complaints against doctors, will send a needed message that for doctors who use drugs illegally or have sex with patients, "now's the time to shape up or ship out," he said.

A recent series in The Washington Post indicated that the 11-member Commission on Medical Discipline rarely bars incompetent or unethical doctors from practice, and is swamped with a backlog of cases. The commission, a part-time, volunteer board, has no investigators and relies on medical society doctors to do its investigations.

Curran, whose office has pressed for stronger medical discipline, said he thinks the proposal will allow the state to pursue tough action against many more doctors than it does now. Fifty to sixty of the more than 800 complaints a year against doctors "deserve serious attention," and 30 to 40 of those may warrant "significant investigations and protracted hearings," he said.

Schaefer proposes merging the commission and the state Board of Medical Examiners, which issues and renews medical licenses, into a single 15-member Medical Quality Assurance Board. The governor would appoint the 11 physician members from a list of nominees supplied by the medical society.

Schaefer's proposals, he said, are designed to "make sure the general public feels confident that when they go to a doctor everything will be handled in the proper way."

Schaefer said he expects delays in processing complaints to be cleared up under the new system.