The shortage of primary care physicians has been well documented. In July, The Washington Postreported that the number of primary care jobs filled by fourth-year medical students was the lowest on record.
Meanwhile, the Association of American Medical Colleges was forecasting a shortage of between 21,000 and 55,200 primary care doctors by 2032, The Washington Postreported. Most people agree the main reason is that primary care medicine pays less than other health care specialties.
Baldwin Wallace University addressed those gaps with two new healthcare programs designed to attract students to primary care.
One is the Primary Healthcare Advancement Program for premed undergraduates. Through the program, students can win early acceptance to one of three nearby medical schools that focus on primary care. These schools include Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens, Ohio; Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, Pennsylvania; and Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown, Ohio.
Also, Baldwin Wallace offers a physician assistant (PA) program for graduate students. Through the program’s first five years, 100 percent of the students finishing it have passed their national certifying exams. It’s the only PA program in Ohio to have a perfect record for the past five years.
“It is not the norm to have that many years in a row,” says Dr. Mark Gersten, medical director of the PA program. The two programs are just a few of several that Baldwin Wallace has introduced in recent years to bolster its health care courses of study. Others include:
•A master’s degree in public health, which helps health care workers address community needs.
•An accelerated bachelor’s degree in nursing, meant for college grads looking to change careers.
•A speech language pathology program to meet growing demand for licensed speech therapists.
•A master’s degree of business administration in healthcare management.
TALE OF TWO MAJORS
Baldwin Wallace’s Primary Healthcare Advancement Program is the first of its kind in Ohio. It mixes courses from the university’s public health major, which deals with the sociological aspects of medicine, with medical science.
The program’s content mirrors first-year curricula, which largely feature public health courses, at those three nearby schools. That makes it easier for students to transfer. Dr. Joseph Yavornitzky, director of the primary health care program at Baldwin Wallace, was also its founder. The program’s origins trace to 2012, when Yavornitzky was designing a new premed educational track to address changes in the medical college admission test, as well as medical school curricula. The changes involved a new emphasis on the sociological aspects of medicine.
Yavornitzky realized that Baldwin Wallace’s public health major was all about those sociological factors. So he combined medical science with courses in public health, which looked at how health care is delivered in the United States and other countries, how social inequities lead to health care disparities in different regions, how the environment can cause diseases and how to prevent and control disease.
“Medical students have traditionally majored in biology as an undergrad,” Yavornitzky says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s routine and common. Medical schools like applicants to stand out in some way. If they major in public health, they would stand out, and it’s related directly to medicine.”
Students in Baldwin Wallace’s primary health care program major in public health, minor in biology and take courses in other fields of study, including medical sociology, in which they learn medical aspects of social behavior.
The program was officially launched in 2013. In addition to classroom instruction, students shadow doctors. Class sizes have been small — about three to five students a year — so students receive plenty of attention.
“We do expect an increase now that word is getting out,” Yavornitzky says.
Of course the program doesn’t discuss the pay differential between primary care doctors and those in other specialties. Yavornitzky says that’s not a viable reason not to choose this field.
“Once students learn the significance of primary care and look at the numbers, no matter what branch of medicine you go into, you’re not going to be poor,” Yavornitzky says. “Making money the sole determiner of what branch of medicine to go into is a big mistake.”
SOME ASSISTANCE PLEASE
With the lack of primary care physicians, the number of physician assistants is on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants was projected to grow by 31 percent between 2018
Dr. Gersten says he and Jared Pennington, the PA program’s director, were recruited to the university to start the program in 2012. Both came from Mercy Medical Center’s Emergency Department in Canton, where Dr. Gersten was director of medical education and Pennington was a physician assistant.
Physician assistants can spend more time with patients, Dr. Gersten says, because they, unlike doctors, do not have as many nonpatient-care responsibilities, such as billing and paperwork.
“The State Medical Board of Ohio determines what physician assistants can and can’t do,” Dr. Gersten says. “But some of that is changing. The push is to give them even more responsibilities.”
Dr. Gersten attributes the PA program’s success to several factors. “Our students are motivated,” Dr. Gersten says. “They work collaboratively.
“To be able to have an impact on future clinicians is incredibly rewarding,” Gersten adds.