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TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — The key to developing more rural primary care doctors for Mississippi may be getting them out of Jackson.
"People tend to stay where they train," said Dr. John Mitchell, the director of the Mississippi Office of Physician Workforce. "We need more places that can train them, more possibilities."
It's part of the reason there are so many primary care doctors in Jackson and Tupelo long standing, successful primary care residency programs.
The bulk of the primary care post-medical school training where young doctors work intensively under supervision to prepare for board certification is centered in Jackson. Hinds County by far the state's most populated county boasts 371 primary care physicians.
"There's a family medicine doctor on every corner" in the Jackson metro area, said Diane Beebe, who heads the family medicine department at University of Mississippi School of Medicine. "They're all my students."
The North Mississippi Medical Center Family Medicine Residency Center in Tupelo, which began in 1996 and now counts 91 graduates, is a major factor in why Lee County is one of only six Mississippi counties that exceed the 1 primary care physician to 1,000 population, and that none of the surrounding counties fall into the deepest levels of the shortage.
The Magnolia Regional Medical Center internal medicine residency program in Corinth began in 2008 and has graduated 20 internal medicine physicians. The majority of the Corinth internal medicine graduates 13 have bucked the national trend, remaining in primary care instead of going on to subspecialize. And 11 of those internists are serving in rural areas.
"It's been really successful at our hospital," said internist Dr. David Pizzimenti, who serves as the medical education director, noting there were 80 applications for six slots this year.
Two more family medicine residency programs came online in Mississippi in 2014 East Central Health Net Regional Rural Family Medicine Residency based in Meridian and Forest General Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program in Hattiesburg. They will graduate their first classes in 2017.
Mitchell, who served on the faculty at the NMMC residency program, hopes that a consortium can form to create a primary care residency program in the Delta, the biggest area not currently covered. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves listed expanding medical residency programs as a top priority for the 2015 Legislature.
"We need five (family medicine) residency programs in Mississippi just to build the primary care base back," said Dr. Edward Hill, who is the founding director for the NMMC residency center.
Although the student doctors contribute a great deal to their host institutions during their training and after if they settle in the region, residency programs aren't inexpensive, Pizzimenti said. In addition to faculty and administrative costs, the residents get paid about $50,000 annually and require malpractice insurance, health insurance and other benefits.
"The first years are very expensive," Pizzimenti said. "You don't get returns for several years."
More residency slots alone aren't the solution, Beebe said. The medical school and the larger community need to cultivate interest in primary care and serving rural areas. They need to ensure the programs meet the highest standards.
"If we don't generate student interest, we're creating more positions that will pull folks in from outside who won't stay," she said.
Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com
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