A $1 million earmark in the Massachusetts state budget is aimed at creating a pipeline of primary care physicians to rural and urban areas of western Massachusetts where there is a severe shortage of doctors.
The earmark in the fiscal year 2018 state budget supports a unique educational program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s satellite campus at Baystate Health in Springfield which was established with the idea of “home growing” more doctors.
Medical school students who sign up to do part of their four-year studies at the Springfield campus take an innovative educational track called PURCH (Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health).
21 students just completed their first year in the program.
" They are pioneers who are doing novel and unique things and will be the leaders of tomorrow," said Dr. Andrew Artenstein, chief academic officer at Baystate Health, who serves as the executive dean of the Worcester-based medical school’s regional campus.
Clinical training for the students takes place in community-based health care offices in rural and urban areas of western Massachusetts. The curriculum focuses on health care issues that are prevalent in the region including high rates of obesity, substance abuse, diabetes and mental illness.
Research shows that doctors tend to begin their practices in the communities where they were educated.
" We are not a major metropolitan area with numerous medical schools, so it is not a hub for medical training, until now that is," said Artenstein.
He said there are “great needs” in western Massachusetts for primary care physicians to succeed doctors who have retired or stopped seeing new patients.
The $1 million earmark is the largest coming to western Massachusetts.
State Senator James Welch of West Springfield, who co-chairs the legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, said the line item for the medical school at Baystate Health was included in the state budget as a result of efforts by the entire western Massachusetts legislative delegation.
"The collaboration among the delegation is second to none in Massachusetts and this is a perfect example," said Welch.
State Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield praised the leadership of Baystate Health for the vision to create a program to “home grow” new doctors.
" The (freshman) class is very well represented by people of color which is very important to have urban doctors who can relate to people in that community," said Williams.
The first class from the medical school campus in Springfield will graduate in 2021.