Increasing the primary care physician workforce in Alabama, region

November 1, 2017

More than a dozen prospective medical students interested in becoming primary-care physicians will visit the College of Community Health Sciences in November. The 16 students have expressed interest in a new track that is part of the University of Alabama School of Medicine’s four-year medical degree program. The Primary Care Track is being offered at the College, which is a regional campus of the School of Medicine. The students will attend an admissions day at the College on Nov. 3. The first admissions day was held in October and 15 students attended. Brook Hubner, the College’s director of Medical Student Affairs, says the monthly admissions days through January are already filled. “Students who apply and who are accepted to the track will want to go into primary care,” says Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of CCHS. Students accepted will begin medical school in 2018. The Primary Care Track is designed to provide students a strong foundation in clinical medicine focused on preparation for residency training in primary care and other community-based specialty fields, through longitudinal experiences with patients, lasting relationships with mentoring physicians, and special programming on population health and physician leadership skills. The primary care-oriented training will also be an excellent experience for students who envision a community-based career in a variety of non-primary care specialties, College officials said. Students in the Primary Care Track will spend their first two years completing the prerequisite basic science curriculum in Birmingham, and their third year in a model of clinical education called a longitudinal integrated clerkship, or LIC, based in Tuscaloosa or other communities around the state. They will work alongside faculty for a majority of the year to follow and care for patients longitudinally, learning across the core disciplines of medicine and in all settings, including outpatient clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and patients’ home. This is a departure from the traditional model – a series of discipline-specific and hospital-dominant four- to eight-week clerkships, where students typically experience few encounters with the same patient and only single episodes of illness. The goal of the Primary Care Track is to continue addressing the critical need for more primary care physicians in Alabama and the region. In 2012 in Alabama, the state had 3,512 active primary care physicians for a ratio of approximately 73 per 100,000 people, ranking it 45th in the nation, according to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The provider shortage is even worse in rural areas – 55 of Alabama’s 67 counties are considered rural, and eight counties have no hospital at all.