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Graduate Medical Education: Addressing the Doctor Shortage

Graduate Medical Education: Addressing the Doctor Shortage

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a physical, mental, and economic impact on our nation and our underserved communities were hit the hardest in terms of need, access, and the availability of health services. The pandemic influenced our entire lives and worsened the nation’s doctor shortage.

Even before the pandemic, Kaweah Health was working to improve access to health care and address the physician shortage. In 2010, Kaweah Health set in place a long-term investment in Graduate Medical Education* (GME) to build a physician workforce able to meet the future health care needs of our community.

“Kaweah Health continues to focus on its newest pillar, empower through education,” said Lori D. Winston, MD, FACEP, Vice President of Medical Education, Designated Institutional Official at Kaweah Health. “In the Central Valley, the shortage is real and when COVID hit, it shined a spotlight on already profound inequities in health care access.”

A 2017 study by the California Future Health Workforce Commission, estimated a 10,500-clinician shortfall by 2030. Equally troubling is the projected shortage of specialists, leaving patients with heart failure, strokes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, debilitating arthritis, and other ailments without direct access to essential care.

“It takes resources,” said Dr. Winston about why there are not more hospital-based training programs. “Building a residency program is a multipronged approach; it is a physician-led initiative that requires a local champion. Kaweah Health is that champion.”

Kaweah Health’s GME program was created to train physicians through high quality, evidence based, multi-disciplinary care while advocating for patient education and access to healthcare for patients of all backgrounds and economic statuses.

“We have retained 45 percent of the physicians within our program and we could not be happier with that statistic,” said Dr. Winston. “Our community can be very proud to know that teaching hospitals, like Kaweah Health Medical Center have better mortality rates than hospitals that do not have an education program.”

Having residents in training raises the quality of care. For the community, an education environment means the latest and greatest in medicine, which is ever-changing as new science, treatments, and services become available.

The word doctor is derived from the Latin verb “docere,” meaning to teach, and Dr. Winston has observed how doctors who teach are more fulfilled. In fact, when new physicians are looking for job opportunities, they almost always choose a teaching hospital like Kaweah Health Medical Center over a hospital without medical education programs. “[Doctors] want to be part of our residency programs,” said Dr. Winston. “They like working with residents.”

Kaweah Health’s six GME programs will support the training of 130 resident physicians during the upcoming academic year. Among them is the next class of 48 new resident physicians who started this past June. Since its inception, Kaweah Health has graduated 118 resident physicians, 45 percent of which have remained in the Central Valley to practice medicine.

There are many approaches to address the physician shortage in the nation, from hiring more advanced practice providers to incentives for short-term employment programs.

“We’re thrilled to continue to build this legacy of Kaweah Health as a teaching hospital,” said Dr. Winston. “Current plans are to continue to build additional residency programs in child mental health, internal medicine, and neurology.”