MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana recently was recognized for graduating more family physicians that go into rural practice than any other program surveyed in the country.
The Rural Training Track Collaborative conducts an annual survey of residency programs to recognize those who consistently produce high numbers of rural doctors on a three-year rolling average. The 2019 survey found that FMRWM produced an average of seven new rural doctors each year.
“We have made great efforts to build a training program with deep connections to rural Montana communities,” said Rob Stenger, the residency program director. “It is a privilege to recruit and train the next generation of rural Montana family physicians, and wonderful to be recognized nationally for our efforts.”
Montana suffers from a shortage of primary care physicians, which is predicted to grow to almost 200 new doctors needed by 2030. Before the creation of FMRWM in 2013, Montana had the lowest number of postgraduate training positions for new doctors per capita of any state in the nation.
FMRWM, which is a program of the UM College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, was created with a mission to develop family physicians who are compassionate, clinically competent and motivated to serve patients and communities in the rural and underserved areas of Montana.
The program accepts 10 new residents a year from about 800 medical student applicants. The three-year training program prepares them to practice rural family medicine, with a goal of having them stay in Montana. Of FMRWM’s four graduating classes, 77% have gone on to practice in rural or underserved areas, with 72% remaining in the state in Montana communities, including Browning, Helena, Lewistown, Libby, Polson, Red Lodge, Ronan and Whitefish, as well as staying locally in Missoula and Kalispell.
“We developed a program with a robust curriculum where residents spend time working in rural communities throughout the state,” said Dr. Darin Bell, FMRWM assistant director of rural education. “We have a dedicated group of clinics and hospitals in rural areas that are invested in helping our residents become the best family doctors they can be. It’s fantastic to see those efforts paying off, as our graduates often get hired by the same rural communities that help train them.”
The residency program is sponsored by Missoula’s Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center, as well as Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Resident and faculty physicians have outpatient clinics at Partnership Health Center in Missoula and Flathead Community Health Center in Kalispell. All residents spend a significant portion of their time working and training at a network of 15 rural hospitals and clinics throughout western Montana.
The newest class to join the program started in July, and recruiting for the next class begins this month.
RTTC is a network of medical schools and primary care residencies across the United States dedicated to increasing the training and development of doctors who practice primary care medicine in rural areas.