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UNM leads in training family medicine doctors

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A University of New Mexico program now in its 11th year is helping to meet the growing need for more family practice physicians.

A national study by the American Academy of Family Physicians showed that a higher percentage of graduates from the University of New Mexico school of medicine enter family medicine residencies than any other institution that grants medical doctor degrees.

The study, which appeared in the October issue of the journal Family Medicine, found that over a three-year period, on average, 20.7 percent of UNM graduates chose to pursue a family medicine path. The next nearest school was East Carolina University, with 19.6 percent.

Family medicine physicians play a critical role in providing primary care to children and adults, especially in rural areas. However, the number of medical students going into this field is expected to fall short of the projected demand for these services as the population ages.

Arthur Kaufman, MD, UNM’s vice chancellor of community-based education. (Courtesy of UNM School of Medicine)

“Nationally, the number of primary care physicians trained by medical schools is totally inadequate,” said Dr. Arthur Kaufman, UNM’s vice chancellor of community-based education. Kaufman said the pipeline of medical students has become heavily weighted toward producing specialists. There is also a geographic maldistribution, with too many physicians opting to work in cities and too few in rural areas.

UNM’s BA/MD program was started in 2006, with support from the Legislature, as a way of addressing the shortage in New Mexico. The program is a way to enable promising students from ethnic minorities and rural areas to get into college and on a track to medical school.

Kaufman said research showed the highest percentage of physicians staying in New Mexico and working in rural areas came from rural areas, or ethnic minorities, graduated from college and medical school in the state, and did a family medicine residency here.

He said the admission criteria for students who apply to this program looks for personal qualities that would make a good physician, such as commitment to community, to their church and an ability to get along well with people.

“That broader definition of what we were looking for in admissions, coupled with the BA/MD program, meant that we took into the school a cohort of students that were much more interested in primary care and working back in home communities,” said Kaufman.

He said UNM is also unique in that medical students get a lot of experience out in communities. UNM developed family medicine residencies and there are 76 family medicine residents at any one time, about half in Albuquerque, the rest dispersed in Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Silver City.

Dr. Robert Sapien, the UNM Medical School’s associate dean of admissions and its director for the BA/MD program, said the Medical School now has capacity for 103 students, of which 28 spots are reserved for students in the BA/MD program. Now the program is 11 years old, there are five students who have completed undergraduate, medical school and three-year residency training, and are in practice – all in primary care, he said.

“The school in general has done a tremendous job helping address (physician) shortages. I think this (BA/MD) program definitely augments those efforts,” Sapien said.