Doug Girod and Garold Minns: Support Wichita effort to train more doctors

10/25/2013 12:00 AM

10/24/2013 7:41 PM

If you were asked to rank the top 10 medical schools in the nation, you probably wouldn’t include the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita on your list. But you’d be wrong.

Wichita’s medical school campus was recently ranked by the journal Academic Medicine as sixth in the nation in producing primary care physicians. We couldn’t be more proud of that accomplishment. And it was exactly the outcome we knew we could achieve.

The Wichita campus, created in 1971, was the result of a fruitful partnership between KU Medical Center, Wichita’s medical community, hospitals and other area leaders. For nearly 40 years, students spent their third and fourth years of med school training in Wichita’s clinics and hospitals.

The goal was to build a program that would be a “doctor pipeline” for rural Kansas. The campus has been so successful that in 2011 we expanded to a full four-year program. An additional 28 students now start medical school in Wichita every year.

But Kansas still needs more doctors. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, only 16 of 105 Kansas counties have adequate access to physicians. The Association of American Medical Colleges ranks Kansas 39th among states in physicians per capita.

Kansas physicians are aging along with the general population. Only 18 percent of our doctors are younger than 40, and 26 percent are 60 or older. So we’re facing a perfect storm of more elderly citizens and large numbers of retiring doctors.

The Wichita campus excels at introducing students to the opportunities and lifestyle they can experience in rural Kansas. Many of those students return to their hometowns.

That’s why we are asking the Legislature to support our efforts to train even more doctors. Last year we requested $2.8 million to enhance community-based medical education in Wichita. That request was not funded. Knowing the urgency, this year we are returning with a request of $4.5 million a year of added funding. Among other things, this would allow us to further increase the class size.

Our community-based education model is one reason the Wichita campus has achieved its national ranking. Residency programs, instead of being housed in a university hospital, are run cooperatively with Wesley Medical Center, Via Christi Health, the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center and Salina Regional Health Center. More than 900 physician volunteers throughout the state work alongside the KU School of Medicine-Wichita to educate students and residents. We couldn’t do it without them.

Students who want to go into family medicine are working against the odds. Faced with large loans, many students consider subspecialties, which on average pay higher salaries than a family medical practice. And in many communities, the family medicine physician is on the front lines, working without a lot of backup or support.

If our state and our nation are serious about overcoming the critical shortage of family physicians, more funding for medical schools and residency programs must be forthcoming. That’s a conversation we are having with policymakers and other stakeholders.

We’re proud of what our Wichita campus has achieved, and we’re committed to its continued success, growth and enduring presence.

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