A new medical program sponsored by the University of Montana has filled its 10 openings with young practitioners who will begin their residency training this summer at a clinic in Missoula.
Filling the slots marks a big step forward for a university-sponsored program new to medical residency training, and for a state that claims just one other residency program, placing it 50th nationally in graduate medical education.
“There are 29,000 patient visits between Missoula and Ravalli counties not happening currently because the resources aren’t available to see those patients,” said Ned Vasquez, director of Family Medical Residency of Montana. “We’re increasing the number of physicians for patients by moving this residency program forward.”
The demand for more physicians in Montana isn’t new. Rural communities have a difficult time recruiting and retaining doctors, often losing them to larger hospitals.
The population in Montana also is aging, and with more people looking to Medicaid for coverage, experts see a growing need for physician care with fewer doctors to provide it.
“About one-quarter of the physicians in Montana are 60 years or older, and they’re likely to retire in the next five years,” Vasquez said. “We have this convergence of needing more care with fewer doctors to provide it.”
The new program began seeking accreditation in the fall of 2011 and was granted it in October 2012. Last November, Family Medical Residency of Montana began interviewing prospective students who had graduated from medical school and needed to begin their residency.
Vasquez said the physicians will be assigned a panel of patients and will practice at Partnership Health Center in Missoula, working under the supervision of the College of Health Professionals and Biomedical Sciences at UM.
After one year, three of the residents will move to Kalispell to complete the last two years of their residency at Flathead Community Health Center.
“We ended up with 100 applicants and interviewed 50 of them,” Vasquez said. “We looked at those 50 applicants and decided 43 were acceptable, and we placed them in order of preference.”
After graduating from medical school, students also completed a “match” process. They interviewed a variety of programs, including that at UM, and ranked the top five programs they were most interested in attending.
Vasquez said the match process pairs both physicians and residency programs with the best fit. Of the 10 physicians entering UM’s residency program, four are from Montana, and three of those are from smaller Montana communities.
“We’re bringing people back to the state who want to live in Montana, making it likely they’ll stay and practice in a smaller community,” Vasquez said. “That’s really the mission of the residency program – to train people who will stay here and work in a smaller place.”
UM will serve as the sponsoring institution, and is responsible for the education delivered to the medical residents. Funding for the program comes from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The program will work in partnership with St. Patrick Hospital, Community Medical Center and Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
“From a UM standpoint, it doesn’t have a financial obligation to fund the residency program,” Vasquez said. “The university provides the academic oversight, but is not on the hook for funding."