PA Center Gets $13.8 Million to Train New Primary Care Providers

Physician workforce issues are a growing problem nationwide. The demand for physicians is increasing at a rapid rate due to the ever-changing health care landscape and the continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, an Association of American Medical Colleges report estimates the nation faces a shortage of more than 91,500 physicians by 2020.

A teaching health center graduate medical education (GME) consortium in Pennsylvania recently received $13.8 million in federal grants provided by the U.S. Department of Human Services (HHS) to train medical residents in its primary care programs.

The grants awarded to the Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, a non-profit, community-based organization, were part of $83.4 million awarded nationwide to teaching health centers.

We recently had the opportunity to spend a few minutes talking to Linda Thomas-Hemak, MD, Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) member and CEO and President of the Wright Center.

How will you use the grant money?

The Wright Center will use the funds to expand and enhance residency and fellowship training in family medicine, internal medicine, and geriatrics programs. The grants will cover the costs of 92 residency full-time equivalents, including up to 48 new positions across northeast Pennsylvania. It also funds two positions for the Wright Center’s geriatric fellowship, a newly accredited program aiming to increase access to high quality care for the region’s elderly.

Because of this federal investment, we have successfully been able to:

  • Expand and enhance regional residency programs in internal and family medicine in our own Wright Centers for Primary Care and with several community partners
  • Build new teaching health center venues in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and in private practice settings with community-based physicians
  • Improve our educational infrastructure in the arena of informatics to measure educational outcomes and better integrate residents into the process of patient care delivery within the teaching health center venues
  • Expand primary care physician training, building a curriculum for interprofessional education that promotes physician leadership and facilitates team-based learning
  • Create jobs, now engaging 120 employees and more than 160 physicians in training

Why is this a good opportunity for Pennsylvania?

The Wright Center’s pioneering teaching health center GME consortium is a model of a community governed entity that brings inclusive health care stakeholders to the table of  collaboration to oversee the training of 21st century physicians to promote new skills sets in arenas of population management, quality, safety, health information technology, and leadership in team-based care delivery. These new skill sets are crucial to successful transformation to a more patient-centered, high quality, and affordable health care delivery system.

According to the 2014 Update: The Commonwealth Fund Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: How the Performance of the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally, the U.S. health care system is the most expensive in the world, but underperforms relative to other countries on most performance measures including access, quality, and cost of care.

In order to really bring forth national solution to public health and access challenges, such as physician shortages, we need innovative ways to train physician leaders for interprofessional, team-based delivery responsive to the unique and changing needs of the communities served.

It’s really exciting and I’m so proud to be in Pennsylvania. So much at The Wright Center has been shaped by the Wright Center for Primary Care’s engagement in the Pennsylvania Chronic Care Initiative (CCI). We’ve learned so much about how to redesign care in the medical home delivery model. We’ve been able to take what we’ve learned and then integrate our medical home lessons into the curriculum for the new workforce. This really puts Pennsylvania and The Wright Center on the cutting edge.

How do you see this helping with Pennsylvania’s physician workforce issues?

The intent of the HHS grants is to address the shortage and maldistribution of physicians in order to reduce health disparities. Bringing the national perspective to the PA-specific conversation is very important. We also really need to understand the demographics of where our workforce needs be attracted to practice.

Dr. Thomas-Hemak and Dennis Olmstead, PAMED’s chief strategy officer and medical economist, also are serving on an advisory committee established by the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a comprehensive study of physician shortages by region and specialty.

Can you tell me a little bit about the Wright Center?

The Wright Center for GME and Primary Care, which has been around for 35 years, owns and operates primary care clinics which are educational venues for internal medicine and family medicine residency programs.

We have many partnerships with academic institutions, including several Pennsylvania medical schools, colleges, and universities. We also have partnerships with several community-based health systems and resource agencies. Even though they may be competing in the delivery system world, these partners collaborate in educational venues with the focus on competent workforce development, community health, and empowering patients. We have partnerships and share educational resources with several FQHCs and a Maternal Family and Health Services center in Pennsylvania where our residents train. The resources we provide to these organizations help them build a healthy learning environment. We also have a partnership with the Veterans (VA) Hospital.

The Wright Center’s Family Medicine National Network residency program, in partnership with A. T. Still University of Health Sciences’ School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona, is a national GME network for FQHC-based training in six different states across the U.S.

The Wright Center is very focused on physician workforce renewal, through a consortium model that engages inclusive stakeholders into the oversight and stewardship of residency programs. We converge educational resources, pull partners together, and then leverage all those partnerships to optimize the training of physicians.