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UM SOM's Primary Care Track Helping to Address National Doctor Shortage

April 28, 2016

Innovative Program Celebrates First Graduating Class

As medical schools continue to look for ways to address the severe shortage of primary care doctors in the U.S., one medical school –the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) --will be graduating its first class of students through an innovative program that encourages medical students to become primary care doctors.

Primary Care Track course leaders Drs. Nikkita Southall, Mozella Williams, Richard Colgan,
Adam Spanier and Coordinator Ms. Barbara Perez (l. to r., in the front row) are joined by some
of the students in the Primary Care Track program, in front of Davidge Hall.

The program was founded four years ago by the Department of Family and Community Medicine, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at UM SOM, and is funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. It enables medical students to choose a “Primary Care Track,” where they learn about caring for the underserved in Maryland, and work directly in areas of the state that have the greatest need for doctors. The need is real: The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that by 2020, the country will face a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians.

The program celebrated the inaugural class at a celebratory reception in Davidge Hall on April 28. The featured speaker at the event was Winston Liaw, MD, MPH, who is director of global and community health at the Virginia Commonwealth University Fairfax Family Medicine Residency Program, as well as an Assistant Professor in VCU Department of Family Medicine.

Since its inception, the program has resulted in one-third of the approximately 600 students at UM SOM choosing to be part of the Primary Care Track (PCT). This year, more than 75 percent of the graduating PCT students plan to become primary care doctors. Over the first four years of the program, a total of 193 students have enrolled in PCT. In the first two years, students spend a half-day per month with one of 50 on-campus or 61 off-campus primary care faculty members coordinated by one of three Maryland Area Health Education Centers in Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore or Baltimore City. In their first summer, students work 80 hours with a doctor in one of several underserved areas in the state.

“The shortage of primary care doctors is a serious national issue,” said the program’s co-founder, Richard Colgan, MD, a Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, who leads the program along with Linda Lewin, MD and Adam Spanier, MD, Associate Professors in the Department of Pediatrics; Nikkita Southall, MD, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine; and Mozella Williams, MD, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. “We are really pleased that our program has generated so much interest among our students. Our efforts have the potential to improve the situation in Maryland, particularly in those places where the shortages are most severe.”

Some UM SOM students in the Primary Care Track, such as Donique Parris, a third-year medical student, were interested in family medicine but wanted to experience it first-hand. In the PCT, she was able spend her first summer of medical school working at a clinic in West Baltimore, where she learned to care for the unique needs of the population there.

“This program has been everything I hoped it would be and my mentors are all family physicians, people I hope to emulate in the future,” said Parris. “I’ve realized that in family medicine, I’ll have the opportunity to really get to know my patients and to work with them over the long term to improve their overall health. That’s exactly what I was looking for in a career in medicine.”

Melanie Connah, a fourth-year student, decided to join the program after seeing Dr. Colgan talk about it three years ago during an assembly. She hasn’t looked back: She has shadowed with a family doctor in Baltimore, and has spent a lot of time with patients, learning the subtle art of medicine. “I definitely got a lot out of the program,” she said. “I’ve spent so much more time with patients, had opportunities to learn about underserved practices, met mentors, and learned how rewarding primary care can be.”

Dr. Colgan says that in the future the program leaders plan to create new partnerships throughout the state, to give students more opportunities to learn about primary care.

“Medical schools must continue to do whatever they can to address this critical shortage of physicians – estimated to reach 45,000 by 2020,” says UM SOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who is also the vice president for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor. “When Primary Care Track students experience first-hand what it means to serve the most vulnerable patients in underserved communities, they realize that there is no more gratifying professional path to take.”

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

The University of Maryland School of Medicine, chartered in 1807 and as the first public medical school in the United States, continues today as an innovative leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland and is an integral part of the 12-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic and clinically based education. With 45 academic departments, centers, programs and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists, along with more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S. with top-tier faculty and programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the nation, but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world.


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