Teaching Health Centers: Primary Care Pipeline Under Siege in Massachusetts
By John M. Silva
President & Chief Executive Officer
Greater Lawrence Family Health Center
The United States faces a severe doctor shortage. In fact, by 2025, we will need more than 52,000 new primary care doctors to meet the growing demand for health care services across the country. With the population aging at the current rate it is, and with the number of doctors retiring, the Merrimack Valley is destined to be affected by this shortage and we may see parts of the region become a designated medically underserved area. Despite this glaring need, one of the most effective pipelines for producing primary care physicians – the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program – could end on May 22, 2020 unless Congress votes to extend the program. As described below, support from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and Rep. Lori Trahan is essential to ensure that we keep this program alive for the medical residents and patients who benefit.
The Lawrence Family Medicine Residency (LFMR) in Lawrence, Mass., is nationally recognized and was the first teaching health center in the country. It is one of only 56 teaching health centers in the nation, located in 27 states and the District of Columbia. Our mission at LFMR is to create and nurture learning environments where physicians are inspired to develop expertise in family medicine and to dedicate themselves to the care of individuals, families and communities, especially those who are underserved. Since 1994, we have been producing primary care physicians that continue to work in underserved communities throughout their careers. By moving primary care training into the community we are on the leading edge of innovative educational programming dedicated to meeting not only patient needs but future health care workforce needs.
According to research, eight out of 10 teaching health center graduates say they intend to work in primary care, and more than half want to work in underserved communities compared to only 23-percent of traditional Graduate Medical Education graduates. In the case of the residents graduating from GLFHC’s Lawrence Family Medicine Residency, upon this year’s gradation in June there will be close to 200 family medicine physicians treating patients throughout the country and the majority staying in community health working with the underserved – with more than 25-percent of alums from the program staying right here in Lawrence.
Residents that are currently in training see over 1 million patients across the country annually. These residency positions are also so highly competitive, that just our four-year program alone receives roughly 800 applications each year for 10-12 slots; meaning throughout the nation, thousands of prepared and engaged possible primary care physicians are turned away. With the looming primary care shortage on the horizon, investments in Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education training will be critical to meet the needs of the evolving health care delivery system.
We need your help – there is legislation pending in Congress to extend the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education program for five years. Please let Sens. Warren and Markey and Rep. Trahan know that you support this legislation and that you want them to work with Congressional leadership to finish work on this bill in the next few weeks.
The above was published on the Editorial Page of The Eagle-Tribune newspaper on Monday, February 17: https://www.eagletribune.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/letter-teaching-health-center-program-at-risk-without-action-by/article_11975a1b-b4f6-5dae-8297-cc0e6b8c44d0.html?fbclid=IwAR2vyo1tFdjSa-UgCRmIGY8dJ8eDitPufcskc_GQ18lZwLCySwpiEvEI-Vo.