Duluth training program for rural doctors feels money pinchA medical residency program in the heart of Duluth that trains future doctors to work in rural areas is being squeezed by decreasing funding and increased regulation, its director said.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
A medical residency program in the heart of Duluth that trains future doctors to work in rural areas is being squeezed by decreasing funding and increased regulation, its director said.
“We’re trying to make sure that this program that’s really valuable to Minnesota has funding for the future,” said Dr. Roger Waage, program director of the Duluth Family Medical Residency Program, 330 N. Eighth Ave. E.
State Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, tried last week to steer money toward the Duluth program and similar programs in St. Cloud and Mankato but was unsuccessful. Reinert offered an amendment on the Senate floor on Thursday to appropriate $6.4 million to Medical Education Research Costs, which helps pay for the programs.
Reinert would have used a portion of the $73 million in health-care savings returned to taxpayers because of a voluntary 1 percent cap on 2011 profits agreed to last year between Commissioner of Human Services Lucinda Jesson and four major insurers, he said in a news release. The federal government would have matched the appropriation dollar for dollar, Reinert’s news release said.
Reinert’s amendment to the Health and Human Services Finance bill was defeated.
The money would have restored some of the funding that has been eroding in recent years at both the state and federal levels for the residency programs, Waage said.
“This is not something that just happened this year,” he said. “It’s been a slow, gradual slide.”
At the same time, added requirements from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education have made the residency program less efficient, Waage said.
“The accreditation rules are demanding more specific time for teaching,” he said. “People like me have multiple things to do, but they’re insisting on designated teaching time that is specified. I can’t have any other duties; I must be teaching.”
Although it’s associated with the University of Minnesota, the residency program is separate from the medical school and its campus in Duluth, Waage said. Formed 35 years ago, the residency program focuses on preparing doctors for rural practices.
“We have this reputation,” he said. “We are serving a great niche by filling many more jobs in rural Minnesota than are filled by any other residency program.”
The residency typically gets about 65 applicants for the 10 spots that are open each year in the three-year program. Residents serve in the Duluth Family Practice Clinic under the tutelage of Essentia Health and St. Luke’s physicians. It sees about 20,000 patient visits a year.
The program, which has a $6 million budget, has a staff of six doctors, a social worker and a diabetes educator, but also uses faculty from the community, some of whom serve without pay, Waage said.
People apply for the program because they are interested in serving away from cities, and about 80 percent ultimately do, he said. The residents learn skills that are particularly in demand in rural areas, such as the ability to perform Caesarean sections.
The Duluth program was one of the first of its kind, established ahead of the St. Cloud and Mankato programs, Waage said.
Reinert expressed his disappointment.
“Family practice programs around the state are on the edge of fiscal stability,” he said in the news release. “A loss of even one of these programs is a blow to health care in Minnesota.”