Pass bill by 9/30/17 to keep Resident Physicians in Doctor Shortage areas
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"I don't have a regular doctor," is a common phrase I hear from patients in the Emergency Room where I spend my time on call as Resident Physician in a rural Teaching Health Center in Alabama. With a smile, my favorite response is, "Well, you do now, if you'll have me." On this day I hand my card to the patient's wife and tell them both "At our clinic, we see patients whether they have insurance or not. I will be happy to take care of you and your family. Just make an appointment." With tears in her eyes, maybe from relief or gratitude or both, the elderly gentleman looked at me incredulously and asked, "How can you do that?" "Well, the short answer is," I replied, "the government funds us to take care of the patients who are falling through the cracks." In the past few weeks, I have sadly added, "...but of course that will go away on October 1st."
One million patients are desperately in need of the funding that will allow 742 Resident Physicians to continue their training at 57 Teaching Health Centers all across the country. As of today, there are two proposed bills: H.R. 3394 and S.1754 that will allow patients similar to mine above to continue to have access to a Primary Care Physician in his community. The Teaching Health Centers where we are training are strategically placed in communities with the greatest need. For three years we learn to practice medicine in these settings, learn to overcome challenges, and learn about the struggles specific to the culture where we find ourselves. It is likely that part of the success of Teaching Health Centers is due in large part to their innovative approaches to training residents in these communities, in contrast to large University Hospitals or Medical Centers where residents have trained.
This success can be measured by the pipeline of doctors being funneled out of the ivory towers of medicine and onto the front lines of the Doctor Shortage Crisis where we are most needed. More than 80% of Residents who graduate from a Teaching Health Center (THC) stays in Primary Care vs ~25% of those graduating from traditional Graduate Medical Education (GME) programs. THCs are also outperforming traditional GMEs in the rates of graduates choosing to continue in Rural, Underserved, or Community Health Centers.
Teaching Health Centers stimulate the economy of small towns. For example, in the small town where I train, I have seen our clinic grow from ~40 employees when I arrived in 2014 to ~120 employees in 5 clinics in underserved locations throughout Alabama in 2017. Not only are funds directly funneled back into the communities through job creation, but an increase in the demand for all ancillary services supporting the clinic, local hospital, and local Nursing Home all indirectly receive an economic boost as well. Decreased ER visits as a result of properly managed chronic diseases also mean less strain on healthcare dollars as well - leading to decreases in the overall cost of healthcare for the community.
One million patients are depending on the healthcare access provided by Resident Physicians who trained in Teaching Health Centers in their communities. Please fully fund H.R. 3394 and S. 1754 to allow THCs to continue to positively impact their communities.
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