Federal Dollars Launch National Family Medicine Residency Program

Residents to Train in Six Community Health Centers in Underserved Areas

March 07, 2013 02:35 pm Sheri Porter

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) recently awarded a $4 million grant to the Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education in Scranton, Pa., to fund a new graduate education model that aims to help address America's shortage of primary care physicians.

[Stock photo group of medical students benefiting from GME grant]

According to a Feb. 19 press release(news.atsu.edu), the Wright Center will partner with the Mesa-based A.T. Still University of Health Sciences School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona to launch the first-ever national family medicine residency program this year.

Thomas McWilliams, D.O., associate dean of graduate medical education at the Arizona medical school, said in the release that residents -- all D.O. physicians -- would receive modern ambulatory training "coupled with carefully selected hospital training experiences using an innovative, nationally accredited residency curriculum led and supervised by The Wright Center and A.T. Still University."

The grant is one of nearly a dozen handed out as part of the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program that was included in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Billed as a "groundbreaking, multistate, centrally run medical residency program," the program will place as many as 29 osteopathic medical school graduates each year for three years -- or, potentially, a total of 87 graduates -- in community health centers located in medically underserved areas across the country.

Story Highlights
  • A federal agency recently awarded a $4 million grant to fund the first national family medicine residency program.
  • The multistate program will open slots for as many as 87 osteopathic family medicine residents in six community health centers that serve at-risk populations.
  • The new graduate education model could help relieve a shortage of primary care physicians in underserved communities.

The network of family medicine residency programs will be anchored at six health care organizations:

  • Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Hillsboro, Ore.;
  • Lutheran HealthCare, Lutheran Family Health Centers in Brooklyn, N.Y.;
  • HealthSource of Ohio in Milford, Ohio;
  • HealthPoint in Renton, Wash.,
  • El Rio Community Health Center in Tucson, Ariz.; and
  • Unity Health Care in Washington.

In an interview with AAFP News Now, McWilliams said that the current graduate medical education system trains good physicians but it does not adequately address the distribution of physicians or their selection of specialty.

"It is our hope to provide a continuum of education so that the medical students we're training can go into practice where they are needed," said McWilliams. He added that the progress of the program likely would be closely monitored by those in the federal government who hold the purse strings.

"We have a commitment from all communities involved to fully educate this first cadre of resident physicians," said McWilliams. "We're betting that by doing the right thing by these (underserved) communities, we eventually will get a reliable funding stream."

The residencies commence July 1 on all six campuses. According to McWilliams, with the exception of the Tucson-based residency, all other community health center sites have open residency slots.

Wendy Biggs, M.D., AAFP deputy director of medical education, weighed in on the grant announcement and the fact that the new program would open up additional training slots for osteopathic family medicine residents.

"The (HRSA) funding highlights how the ACA's teaching health center grants could help ease the shortage of primary care physicians," said Biggs.

Although she expressed concern regarding the procurement of an ongoing funding mechanism for the new program, Biggs said the AAFP agreed with the idea of training family medicine physicians in settings where primary care physicians are in short supply.

"Research shows our family medicine residents often go back to practice in the rural and underserved communities in which they trained," said Biggs.

McWilliams, the third in line of four generations of FPs in his family, called his work on the project one of the most rewarding efforts in his professional career.

"Our greatest success will not be measured by the 87 residents in this program, but rather by our ability to showcase a model that can be replicated by other medical schools, hospitals and health systems and that addresses the need for primary care in underserved and at-risk populations," he said.