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Grant to help address primary care physician shortage


A $2.4 million Human Resources Services Administration (HRSA) grant is a potential “game changer” for teaching medicine at Penn State College of Medicine and encouraging students to pursue careers in primary care to address a national physician shortage.

“By bringing together education leaders across our organization, we will break down silos and enhance education,” said Dr. Shou Ling Leong, principal investigator of the HRSA grant and associate vice chair of education in the Department of Family and Community Medicine.  “Ultimately, the goal is to improve the health of the nation by creating clinical training that is more integrated across disciplines.”

The grant will bring together faculty in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, Division of Internal Medicine, Pharmacology and the Physician Assistant Program to work collaboratively to better train medical professionals for the health care environment in which they will practice.

“This is a potential game-changer because it will develop systems-ready physicians who are prepared to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams,” said Dr. Jed Gonzalo, associate dean for health systems education. “Medical education has traditionally taken place in silos, making it clunky and redundant for the way medicine is practiced today. This grant allows us to build collaborative networks and bridges to make things more efficient.”

Training that extends from medical school to residency and into practice will encourage better integration. Trainees will become specialists in high-quality primary care by creating inter-professional medical home neighborhoods. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, a medical neighborhood includes the patient’s primary care team and also community and service organizations, state and local public health agencies.

The grant will help to identify earlier student’ interest in primary care and nurture that interest throughout the full four years of medical school,” Leong said. “Students will gain autonomy and diminish the risk of becoming ‘lost’ along their educational journey when it comes to pursuing their passion and interest in primary care or population health.”

The grant will focus on students and residents in Family and Community Medicine and Internal Medicine, and students in the physician assistant program. Their population health-focused educational experiences will address the social determinants of health – conditions in which people are born, live and work – better preparing them for the management of patient populations, while developing skills in improving quality of care and the application of information technology to healthcare. From their undergraduate through residency years, students will have opportunities to work with students in the other professional programs and patients to enhance their appreciation for inter-professional collaborative care.

The grant will enhance the College’s Family and Community Medicine Accelerated Program, and bring a similar program to General Internal Medicine. The accelerated programs give students an opportunity to complete medical school in three years and complete their residency in three years at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“In the face of an anticipated shortage of physicians and rising student debt, 35 percent of medical schools are considering the development of accelerated programs,” Leong said.

The accelerated programs intersperse student work in different disciplines across years rather than in individual, time-limited rotations. Students follow a panel of patients to develop meaningful relationships with patients and physician advisors. Studies have shown that students who learn in this way become more patient-centered and empathetic physicians.

The College’s Physician Assistant Program uses a comprehensive admissions process that aims to enroll students who are more likely to work in primary care in under-served communities.  To address the national shortage of clinicians in rural and under-served communities, the grant provides educational stipends for physician assistant students rotating in these areas.

Gonzalo said the College of Medicine is well-positioned to move on the objectives of this grant because of previous grants it received from HRSA to develop the Patient Centered Medical Home and from the American Medical Association to develop health system science competency education.

“Our College of Medicine has been leading innovation in health systems science, which includes our integral role in the first textbook in this area,” he said. “We are leading the way and this is a great opportunity for us to expand this work and make it very tangible.”

Gonzalo said the changes in the College benefits potential medical student applicants because they can  experience a customized curriculum that is tailored to their passions.


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