MISSOULA – The University of Montana is quietly hitting a very high mark in the on-going effort to retain newly-trained physicians to work in Montana, with a strong majority of graduates deciding to stay and serve patients across the state.
Just five years ago, there was a growing concern of finding enough physicians to meet the demand not only in Montana’s urban centers but also at its far-flung rural hospitals.
That’s when University of Montana’s Health and Medicine decided to tackle the problem with a new physician retention program. The success is proving to be remarkable, even in a relatively short period of time.
“We graduate 10 residents per year and over 70% of them are staying in Montana as primary care rural physicians,” said UM Health and Medicine Dr. Dean Reed Humphrey, PhD. “So that was a singularly good addition to Western Montana and a real benefit. Because we’re really sort of helping incrementally solve rural health care issues.”
Appearing on our most recent “Face the State” program, Dr. Humphrey says the success is part of an overall change in healthcare, and education at UM, where the approach is now “interdisciplinary”, involving different forms of care in a single, unified approach to improve patient outcomes or preferred results to help individuals.
“The opportunity to do rural care, underserved care has allowed us to really be more impactful in that regard,” Dr. Humphrey said. “So we’re up in the Flathead, we’re down in the Bitterroot with our IPHARM program, doing screenings and so forth. But to be able to get practitioners into rural areas has always been a challenge.”
Dr. Humphrey says part of that challenge has always been the lonely nature of rural healthcare — and that’s where a feeling of teamwork with other health professionals can help.
“Part of it is, you know, when you’re a solo practitioner, whether you’re a physician or a physical therapist or social worker, it’s tough to be a solo practitioner,” Dr. Humphrey said.
He told MTN News the trend continues to show a growing demand for healthcare for aging Montanans in the coming years, and while hospitals are upgrading their equipment, they still need people.
Dr. Humphrey also said the physician retention effort is helping build a pipeline that’s also convincing more students to seek the profession, especially when coupled with the Montana lifestyle.
“We’re also able to recruit residents who have a commitment to rural care. So they’re not going to be trained here and then just run off to a specialty somewhere in urban centers. So we’re pretty selective.”
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News