Colorado is facing a shortage of medical professionals, especially in rural communities. The lack of rural healthcare causes some people to forgo preventive care and often immediate treatment for serious conditions. A program at the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus aims to be a solution to that shortage, and the program has expanded to include the Schools of Dental Medicine and Pharmacy, thanks to a $2.4 million grant from Kaiser Permanente Colorado. The grant money will establish the Interdisciplinary Rural Training and Service Program (IRTS).
The program, led by Mark Deutchman, MD, professor of family medicine, builds upon the success of the School of Medicine’s “Rural Track” by adding the disciplines of pharmacy and dental medicine. The Colorado Area Health Education Center (AHEC) will serve as the administrator and evaluator of the program, which increases the number of students exposed to rural health care delivery in Colorado’s Delta, Garfield, Routt, Jackson and other rural counties. The different disciplines interact in the following ways:
School of Pharmacy
Students will focus on improving the health of patients with heart disease including diabetes, high blood pressure, blood clotting and high cholesterol and other lipid disorders, as well as providing multidisciplinary clinical education in rural communities.
School of Dental Medicine
Students will increase the number of rural communities served by the Colorado Smilemakers mobile dental van which provides screenings and basic dental treatment. The students will be encouraged to practice in rural areas upon graduation.
School of Medicine
The successful program which takes students into rural communities to shadow and train alongside medical professional in hospitals and clinics will expand to include shadowing of dentists and pharmacists currently practicing in rural communities.
Kaiser’s IRTS grant builds on the success of the School of Medicine’s Rural Track which was founded four years ago with the support of a health professions grant from the Colorado Trust. Rural Track continues to receive support from the Colorado Trust and the Dean of the School of Medicine. Its strategy identifies medical school applicants who are interested in rural practice, and during the four years of medical school, provides them with mentorship, additional knowledge, broad skills and rural socialization experiences to support and nurture that interest. The ultimate goal of the track is to increase the number of students who eventually enter, and remain, in practice in rural areas of Colorado.
The Rural Track graduated is first class of 12 students on May 22, 2009. Rural Track Director Deutchman says that those students must now complete three or more years of residency before they enter practice, and reports that all of them still have a stated interest in rural medicine and have entered residencies in medical specialties that are needed and useful in rural areas: seven in family medicine, two in emergency medicine, two in pediatrics and one in general surgery.
The Rural Track also helps link these future doctors with communities in need of physicians. This is accomplished during the medical school years by informing them of scholarship and loan repayment programs. During residency many of their programs include rural training rotations and contact with rural communities that are actively seeking physicians.
The Rural Track is not an instant fix,” says Deutchman, “but it’s a critical part of a long pipeline. That pipeline starts by getting rural young people thinking about healthcare careers in general during their early years, getting them properly prepared for college, getting them into professional schools and supporting them in returning to rural communities to live happily and be successful in their work. Kaiser’s IRTS grant is exactly the kind of help we need.
About Kaiser Permanente Colorado
Kaiser Permanente Colorado is the state's largest nonprofit health plan, working to improve the lives and health of Denver, Boulder and southern Colorado area residents for 40 years. Kaiser Permanente Colorado provides comprehensive health care services to 480,000 members through 17 medical offices and a network of affiliated hospitals and physicians. The health plan was recently named “Highest in Member Satisfaction” among Commercial Health Plans by J.D. Power and Associates. It is also the top-ranked commercial and Medicare health plan in Colorado, according to U.S. News & World Report/National Committee for Quality Assurance. In 2008, Kaiser Permanente directed more than $50 million to community benefit programs to improve the health of all Coloradans. For more Kaiser Permanente news, visit kp.org/newscenter.