Traverse City Business News | Health is Wealth: $880K grant supports recruitment and training of physician students in northern Michigan

Health is Wealth: $880K grant supports recruitment and training of physician students in northern Michigan

A grant from the Maxon Foundation will help grow a recruiting program at Munson Healthcare.

The $884,000 grant, which will be paid out over five years, will support the recruitment and training of physician students through the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s Rural Community Health Program (R-CHP) in Traverse City.

Dr. Daniel Webster, co-founder of Munson Healthcare’s Family Practice Residency Program and community assistant dean for the R-CHP, said the program has been a success both in training doctors and providing healthcare for more rural areas.

Best of all, a number of the participants are seeing the appeal of providing health care for those in smaller communities and returning to those areas to practice.

He said around 30% of participants are returning to northern Michigan, many in the communities they served. That figure compares favorably with many other similar programs around the country.

“They develop relationships with communities. They go (elsewhere) to do their residency, then (we) recruit them back,” Webster said.

That’s particularly important in rural communities where it is often difficult to recruit or retain doctors. More than 20% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only 10% of physicians serve there. According to Rural Health Information Hub, rural communities often face challenges in maintaining an adequate health workforce, making it difficult to provide needed patient care or to meet staffing requirements for their facilities.

For a decade, rural areas have been losing hospitals to financial problems, according to Healthday Now. That forces residents to either drive long distances for treatment, or even worse, do without needed care. Add to that a nationwide shortage of doctors, and the challenge of providing health care in such areas is obvious.

While the Grand Traverse region is known for its wealth of outdoor activities and cultural attractions, it still faces obstacles in attracting younger professionals, including healthcare workers. Webster acknowledged the challenges of recruiting doctors to rural communities, and then retaining them.

He said there are many factors that go into doctors’ decisions regarding where they practice. They include potential income, their significant other’s preferences and personal and professional opportunities, schools and housing.

“More doctors (for) rural communities are needed,” said Webster. “This additional grant will allow further development of our rural focus through initiatives directed toward increased patient access to quality health care in northern Michigan.”

Dr. Carter Anderson and Dr. Daniel Webster

Since its inception in 2009, the R-CHP has emerged as a national model for recruiting, training and placing highly qualified physicians in rural areas. As noted, nearly one-third of the program’s 110 participants have returned to practice medicine within Munson Healthcare’s service area. This recruitment rate places Munson Healthcare favorably among the four leading rural physician-in-training programs nationally.

Dr. Carter Anderson participated in the program in 2018, splitting his time between Traverse City and Ludington. He and his family will be returning to the area to begin working fulltime this summer. “Thankfully one of my connections turned into my dream job at the Grand Traverse Women’s Clinic,” he said.

Anderson said he learned about the area’s medical resources and how he could help provide healthcare to those who might not have such ready access as those in urban areas. “It’s really cool to have a job where I can help people who might not have access,” he said.

The MSU College of Human Medicine – one of the university’s three medical schools, along with its College of Osteopathic Medicine and College of Veterinary Medicine – mandates certain requirements for the program.

“We have to provide the same curriculum as in Grand Rapids or East Lansing,” Webster said.

That includes volunteer preceptors who oversee the students’ four-week clinicals in fields such as pediatrics, internal medicine and family medicine.

The Maxon Foundation is based in Cincinnati, Ohio. To date, the foundation has committed more than $5 million in charitable support to various Munson Healthcare programs and services. The program has been critical in sustaining and enhancing healthcare for the residents of northern Michigan in communities such as Traverse City, Ludington, Alpena, Charlevoix and Grayling.

Now, thanks to the foundation’s grant, the program is poised to expand its reach into communities such as Cadillac, Gaylord and Manistee. The program will be able to increase the number of participating students from 12 to 16 annually.

Webster said the foundation actually approached Munson about expanding its services and suggested applying for the grant.

“I think Mr. Maxon had this vision in mind when he created the foundation,” Webster said. “I think he’d be proud of what we’re doing.”




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