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New Medical School Program Confronts Physician Shortage

January 03, 2017
Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health interviewing for medical students

By the end of  2016, 151 students had already applied to a new program for medical students who are interested providing care to under-served urban and rural communities, particularly those in western Massachusetts.

Interviews are now underway for successful applicants to the Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health (PURCH) program being offered at Baystate Health, the new regional campus of the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS).

The PURCH track's first cohort, consisting of 25 students, will start in the summer of 2017.

Establishing a Pipeline for Local Doctors

The greater Springfield area is experiencing an ongoing shortage of physicians, particularly primary care doctors.

"I'm extremely impressed by the quality of the applicants."

"The future of our healthcare will be in good hands based
on the quality and aspirations of these candidates coming
through the interview process."

—Richard Gerstein, MD, Family Medicine
PURCH program interviewer

In Baystate’s most recent community health needs assessment, 15% of respondents said they were not able to receive primary care. 

PURCH was created in response to these needs—it is meant to establish a pipeline for primary care physicians who will practice locally.

PURCH increases access to affordable medical education for Massachusetts students whose tuition at UMMS is 30% lower than for out-of-state students. The new track will also expand UMMS' class size by 25 students per year for the four years of the program.

So far, 53% of PURCH applicants are from Massachusetts—with a significant number from western Mass.

According to Kevin Hinchey, MD, Associate Dean for Education at UMMS-Baystate, experience shows that doctors tend to practice in the communities where they were educated.

"And because we are training doctors who will be comfortable in rural as well as urban hospitals, PURCH should help recruit doctors of all specialties to our area, not just primary care," says Hinchey.

Preparing for Local Health Care Challenges

The PURCH curriculum focuses on urgent health care issues specific to western Massachusetts' urban and rural communities.

For example, obesity, substance abuse, diabetes, and mental health were among the significant health concerns identified by the community in their responses to Baystate's community needs assessment.

Individual behaviors and genetics contribute greatly to conditions such as these. But, health is also influenced by many complex and interconnected social and environmental factors—income, education, and race, as well as community characteristics, such as lack of access to grocery stores, inadequate public transportation, and living in a high crime neighborhood.

PURCH will train medical students to think more broadly about social determinants of health, the causes of health disparities, and disease prevention and wellness. They will be able to look beyond diagnosis and treatment of disease to understanding the patient as an individual as well as a member of a community.

Leveraging Baystate’s Expertise in Urban and Rural Health

Baystate Health is one of the largest health systems in New England, serving an extremely diverse population of more than 800,000 in western Massachusetts—from inner city neighborhoods to hilltown farms.

It provides an optimal setting for PURCH students, offering opportunities to train in both urban and rural clinical sites.

Because Baystate Medical Center is the region's only tertiary referral center—and the busiest emergency department in Massachusetts—students will be exposed to the gamut of medical conditions common to urban areas. Students will also train at Baystate’s community health centers in downtown Springfield.

Baystate Franklin Medical Center will provide PURCH students with an opportunity to practice medicine in a community hospital located in rural Franklin County.

Shifting the Focus of Health Care

The PURCH program aims to develop physicians who will be able to participate in reforming the health care system by expanding their focus beyond treating disease to promoting health for their patients and their communities.