With primary care expected to play a key role in national health care reform, the University of Maryland School of Medicine will be using a five-year, $877,000 grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to develop a program aimed at increasing the number of medical students who choose primary care specialties.
"We believe that our strong emphasis on translational bench-to-bedside research only strengthens our ability to focus on primary care at the academic level," says E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, vice president for medical affairs, University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. "While we remain a top-tier research-intensive institution, we must recognize our responsibility to primary care to ensure access to health care, especially in underserved communities where health disparities may exist."
"Primary care and preventive health measures are the foundation of any health care system. However, primary care specialties, including family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine, face a shortage of physicians as, over the last decade, general interest in primary care has drastically decreased," explains Richard Colgan, MD, (pictured) lead investigator on the grant and associate professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine.
A multidisciplinary team featuring faculty from family medicine, pediatrics, and internal medicine will create a special Primary Care Track (PCT), an ambitious academic program that will allow students to gain hands-on experience throughout their four years of medical school. First-year students will be connected with primary care physicians in urban as well as rural communities, fostering an opportunity for mentoring across all years of medical school and the opportunity to see the different medical challenges in different communities.
"There is no way to contain health care costs without addressing the need for more primary care services. At the University of Maryland School of Medicine, we will offer our students a unique medical school program featuring longitudinal mentoring and intensive clinical experience with dedicated practitioners to show these students the rewards of primary care medicine, which we hope will prompt more of them to choose primary care as a career," adds Linda Lewin, MD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics and a co-investigator on the grant.
"Our goal is to get students excited about primary care early in their careers. We were fortunate to have mentors while in medical school to help guide us into our current specialties. We hope that this grant will provide a robust clinical experience for students to help them understand what primary care is all about," says co-investigator Nikkita Southall, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine.
The Primary Care Track builds on a previous family medicine initiative, which allows University of Maryland medical students to work alongside a family physician in their first two years of medical school. In 2010, the first group of students in this program graduated, and nearly three out of four of those students chose to pursue a primary care specialty, nearly twice the national average.
The Primary Care Track features partnerships with the Health Resources and Services Administration and the State of Maryland's Area Health Education Centers (AHEC).
"As part of the program, students will spend two weeks of their summers in distant parts of the state or in the Baltimore area, working on projects and seeing the direct benefit to the community," explains Claudia Baquet, MD, MPH, director of the Maryland AHEC and associate dean for policy and planning at the School.
"Primary care doctors do the job most medical students imagine when they first applied to medical school - becoming an integral part of our patients' lives over the years. We are often on the front line of challenging cases, when there is an opportunity to intervene before medical complications develop. Through this special Primary Care Track, we hope we can show these students the scope and impact that they can have as primary care physicians on the lives of their patients, families and communities," says Mozella Williams, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine and community health relations coordinator for this project.
In 2011, about 40 percent of graduates from the School of Medicine chose a primary care-related residency. However, a substantial number of those physicians will ultimately choose to pursue sub-specialty training and will not practice primary care.
Nationally, about 16,000 U.S. medical school seniors participated in the residency placement system through the National Resident Matching Program. Of that group, about 38 percent chose a primary care- related residency, which was up slightly from the previous years. However, many of those graduates also will leave primary care for sub-specialties.
Established in 1807, the University of Maryland School of Medicine is the first public medical school in the United States and the first to institute a residency training program. The School of Medicine was the founding school of the University of Maryland and today is an integral part of the 12-institution University System of Maryland. On the University of Maryland's campus in Baltimore, the School of Medicine serves as the anchor for a large academic health center, which aims to provide the best medical education, conduct the most innovative biomedical research and provide the best patient care and community service to Maryland and beyond.