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North Country HealthCare addresses doctor shortage in northern AZ

June 7, 2019 by Jessica Gee


Key Takeaways
 
What?

Seven medical students graduated from Flagstaff program focused on rural training.


So What?

Physicians are more likely to practice where they train, which may help alleviate the provider shortage in northern Arizona.


Now What?

To further increase access to care, North Country HealthCare and the Northern Arizona Area Health Education Center will launch their first-ever family medicine residency program in July 2020.


ATSU students wearing surgical gear.
ATSU-SOMA students practice getting prepped for surgery. These seven students graduated from medical school last May.

Right now Arizona needs an additional 605 primary care physicians to address its shortage of health professionals, according to the 2019 State Health Assessment, released last month by the Arizona Department of Health Services. In fact, Arizona is ranked 38th in the nation in the number of primary care providers per 100,000 population. Not having access to a primary care provider makes routine check-ups and ongoing care difficult to obtain, and has a negative impact on the quality of life of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities.

Access to care is especially dire in Arizona’s rural, frontier and Native American communities, where the population to provider ratio is 3,896:1. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) considers an area to have a physician shortage if it has less than one provider per 2000 patients.

North Country HealthCare making a difference

Teaching and training doctors in high-need communities is one strategy to meet the provider gap. Research suggests that physicians are more likely to practice where they train, which highlights the importance of training medical students in rural northern Arizona. North Country HealthCare, a federally qualified community health center serving northern Arizona, is actively working to increase access to care for Arizonans. Since 2008 North Country HealthCare has been a partner site of A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA).

“At North Country HealthCare, we’re committed to not only treat our patients, but also to teach and train future doctors who can provide care in the years ahead,” said Dr. Anne Newland, North Country HealthCare CEO. “Oftentimes the place a doctor trains is where they plant roots and remain to treat patients with whom they’ve cultivated meaningful relationships.”

This month, seven medical students are graduating from the ATSU-SOMA partner site based at North Country HealthCare in Flagstaff. Brian Buckner, Friederike Froke, Derik Kenworthy, Rachel McCain, Hillary Park, Karla Sanchez, and Ashwin Shankar graduated this May from ATSU-SOMA as osteopathic physicians. They have all been matched with residencies across the U.S.

For the last 11 years about ten ATSU-SOMA students come to North Country HealthCare in their second year of medical school, where they complete their classroom-based and clinical education. In their third and fourth years, the students complete clinical clerkship rotations across northern Arizona and the surrounding region. Rotation sites include North Country HealthCare locations, Summit Healthcare, Kingman Regional Medical Center, Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation, among others.

About ATSU-SOMA

 The mission of ATSU-SOMA is to prepare individuals through high-quality, innovative, learning-centered undergraduate and graduate medical education programs to become compassionate osteopathic physicians and healthcare leaders who serve medically underserved populations with a focus on research and community-oriented primary care. All ATSU-SOMA students are educated at community health centers across the country where they work with medically underserved populations.

In 2019, seventy-one percent of the students graduating from the ATSU-SOMA North Country HealthCare education site matched to primary care-related residencies, compared to 52% of graduates nationwide. Two students, Buckner and Park, matched to Obstetrics-Gynecology residencies. Buckner will complete his at the University of Arizona in Tucson. McCain and Shankar matched to Pediatrics residencies, while Froke will complete an Internal Medicine residency and Sanchez will be trained in Emergency Medicine. Finally, Kenworthy’s residency will be in Radiology-Diagnostic.

“I was drawn to SOMA because of its unique curriculum emphasizing early patient exposure and independent learning,” said Brian Buckner, recent graduate of the ATSU-SOMA/North Country HealthCare program. “While always being available to help when needed, faculty pushed me to find answers to questions on my own, facilitating an environment that has prepared me for life-long learning. As I began my second year of medical school at North Country HealthCare, I was met by a team of physicians who had my success as their top priority. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and feel very prepared to meet challenges as I continue my education as a resident.”

Community health centers play a vital role

North Country HealthCare is a federally qualified health center (FQHC) providing comprehensive primary care services to uninsured and underinsured people in 14 distinct communities across the northern half of the state. Community health centers like North Country HealthCare play a vital role in increasing access to preventive and primary care among medically underserved populations. Community health centers must meet 19 federal criteria in order to receive FQHC designation, including being located in or serve a high need community (designated “medically underserved area or population”) and provide comprehensive primary healthcare to all, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Community health centers, including North Country HealthCare, are required to offer a sliding fee scale, which allows a patient to pay a nominal fee for care if they are uninsured and are considered low-income.

In an effort to increase access to care, North Country HealthCare and the Northern Arizona Area Health Education Center will launch their first-ever family medicine residency program in July 2020. Years in the making, the program will be the only Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) physician residency program in Arizona with a community health center as the sponsoring institution. Unique not only in its teaching model but also its location, it is one of the only ACGME residency programs north of Phoenix and housed in a regional AHEC center. To learn more about NAHEC, visit their web page.

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