Jennings Dooley, a second-year medical student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, wants to see state funding to increase medical residency slots in Tennessee.
Representing a statewide student task force on the subject, Dooley sent an email to UT Interim President Randy Boyd, who has been a proponent of increasing medical residencies to offset a shortage of physicians, particularly in rural areas in Tennessee. Not only did Boyd read the email, he made it a point to meet with Dooley and a contingent of her classmates from the UTHSC College of Medicine while he was in Memphis last Friday.
“The University of Tennessee needs to be the talent developer for the state of Tennessee, and how do we do more of that,” Boyd said.
The answer for the UTHSC College of Medicine is more slots for residencies that could train physicians in certain specialties, including family medicine and primary care, where there is great need in Tennessee.
As medical school enrollment has increased nationally, the number of residencies and the federal funding for them has remained static.
Boyd said he has been discussing the issue with state lawmakers, who are recognizing the need to augment federal funding in order ensure Tennesseans have the best access to health care providers.
He is optimistic that funding will be approved this legislative session for 100 new slots to be divided proportionately among the medical schools in the state. Because residents tend to stay in the locations where they were trained, this could bolster the ranks of physicians in Tennessee.
“I think it looks very promising that we’re going to get the residencies this year,” Boyd said. “I think the exciting part is, we’re changing our mindset about how these can be funded. I think in the past, the state never thought this was something they do. I think this is something they should do, and I think they’ll do more of it.”
Boyd put the graduate medical education funding issue “on the radar of the state,” said UTHSC Chancellor Steve J. Schwab, MD. “That’s a great step, and we’re excited.” Tennessee would be among a handful of states that have stepped up to help fund residencies.
The students also offered Boyd and the chancellor ideas for increasing the ranks of medical graduates who practice in rural areas of the state. They suggested establishing rotations in rural health care settings and developing medical education programs that identify promising undergraduate students from rural areas to encourage them toward medical school.