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Federal grant enhances rural residency program

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | July 18, 2020 1:00 AM

Kalispell Regional Healthcare is one of three hospital systems in western Montana to sponsor a residency program that recently received a $2.5 million federal grant that will go toward enhancing training for resident physicians in rural or underserved areas.

The grant was awarded to the University of Montana’s Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana, which spearheads the program called Enhanced Rural Access and Training program. This program, which aside from Kalispell Regional is also sponsored by Providence St. Patrick Hospital and the Community Medical Center in Missoula, is one of 20 programs throughout the country to receive an award for residency training in primary care.

According to a press release, the five-year award will “facilitate increased learning opportunities in rural and underserved areas through training in addiction medicine, telehealth and interprofessional education.” It will also allow the residency program to develop an intensive training track that “enables residents to complete much of their training and work as primary care doctors in rural areas” and will allow the program to expand and develop its network of rural health-care partners.

Residents who participate are involved in continuity clinic training at Partnership Health Center in Missoula and at Flathead Community Health Center in Kalispell.

The program also works with an extensive rural training network across 16 sites. Those sites include Tribal Health of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in St. Ignatius, Blackfeet Community Hospital in Browning and the Northwest Community Health Center in Libby, among other networks in areas including Eureka, Ronan, Plains and Polson.

“This funding will allow us to build on our already robust rural medical education and create new rural training opportunities,” said Dr. Darin Bell, the program’s assistant director of rural education and the principal investigator on the grant. “With it we will have the resources to develop a number of new programs that have been in various stages of planning for several years.”

The residency program welcomed its inaugural class of 10 residents in 2013 and partnered with a core group of nine rural training sites.

Seven years later, according to the press release, the program now partners with 16 rural training sites and recently graduated its fifth class of family medicine physicians. Over 70% of the graduates have gone on to practice in rural and underserved areas, making the program one of the top producers of rural family physicians in the country.

“This award has a big impact in helping us continue to fulfill our mission of training the highest quality family doctors for rural and underserved communities in Montana,” Bell said. “Our unique training program has already proven highly successful, and we will continue to develop our training in innovative ways which will further distinguish us as a top-tier training program for rural family medicine.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com