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Federal grant may help state doctor shortage

By Anjana Schroeder
Capital News Service

LANSING — A federal grant may be a piece of the solution to the state’s doctor shortage.

Chris Allen, chief executive officer of the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority, said $21 million of a $231 million federal grant was allocated to fund 85 new primary care positions in internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology and geriatrics.

“Using the emergency room for primary care is not the way to go,” Allen added.

The three-year grant for resident physician rotations will go to medically underserved areas. The hope is that residents will stay there upon completing their training, Allen said.

He said 85 to 95 percent of the funds will be used for resident salaries and faculty trainers.

Resident physicians have graduated from medical school but are not practicing by themselves yet.

Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is participating in the program.

William Strampel, dean of the college, said it applied for five residency programs and has been approved for psychiatry, internal and family medicine. It is awaiting approval for pediatrics, obstetrics and geriatrics programs.

Most primary care physicians are in an outpatient setting like a clinic after they’re done with their training, he said.

Dennis Archambault, director of public affairs at the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority, said the program goes beyond loan forgiveness. “We’re taking training into the community and introducing these people to a potential working location.”

Allen said part of the recruitment process is looking for candidates passionate for the work.

“They will develop a relationship with the staff, community and patients,” he said, which will increase the likelihood of residents staying.

At this point, MSU is the only university involved in the program, but Allen said another round of funding should be coming and the health authority would like to add more universities.

Allen said when residents complete the program, they’re eligible for loan forgiveness. They must practice medicine in one of the locations to qualify.

David Fox, senior director of federation relations at the Michigan State Medical Society in East Lansing, said the grant does not affect medical doctors directly but “it’s beneficial in general because it will offer more residency training in the Detroit area and medically underserved areas.”

Fox said there’s a tendency for physicians who do their training locally to stay local, which will in turn ease the state’s overall doctor shortage.

“By training people in these clinics as a model, we’re trying to see if we can’t change the paradigm to allow primary care providers in these clinical operations to provide increased access to patients and train them where they’ll be working for most of the rest of their life,” Strampel said.

Fox said many students graduate from medical school but too few residency spots are available for them to train in Michigan.

The five federally qualified health centers are Covenant Community Care, Detroit Community Health Connection, Wellness Plan, Western Wayne County Health Center and Family Medical Center. Residents will rotate through each.

Strampel said, “Now that we’ve got the approval, the real thing will be is to make sure we execute this correctly starting next summer when we put the residents in those spots.”

Originally it was expected that the programs would start with MSU students, but students from other universities also are eligible.

The college won’t know placements until the end of February.

At MSU, 300 students are projected to graduate from the College of Osteopathic Medicine this year, registrar Robin Hastings said.

Strampel said, “I’d be surprised if it’s only MSU students taken in this initial group in downtown Detroit, but I wouldn’t be unhappy with that.”

Another benefit of the program is having new doctors work in the inner city, he added.

“We’re hoping that we’ll get some of these people that will decide that this isn’t a bad place to be, and we may actually improve physicians staying in inner-city Detroit.”

Strampel said the program is one step to address the doctor shortage, but the program needs to be expanded

“If this pilot is successful, I think you’ll see this model go across the country and lots of different places.”

 

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