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UM’s medical residency placement in rural areas ranks high

by UM News Service
| October 26, 2021 12:00 AM

MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana recently was ranked second in the nation among surveyed residency programs for graduating the most family physicians that go into rural practice.

The Rural Training Track Collaborative conducts an annual survey of residency programs to recognize programs that consistently produce a high number of rural doctors on a three-year rolling average. The 2021 survey found that UM’s medical residency program produces an average of seven new rural doctors each year. The University of Kansas ranked first with 10 doctors.

“From the beginning of our program, we have focused on recruiting and training family doctors for rural Montana,” said Dr. Darin Bell, associate director for rural education. “We have a dedicated network of rural hospitals and clinics who help out with that process. We couldn’t be happier to see that our efforts and those of our partner institutions continue to produce such high numbers of rural doctors coming out of our program.”

Montana suffers from a shortage of primary care physicians, with one prediction from a national health policy center showing almost 200 new doctors will be needed in the state by 2030. UM’s family medicine residency program was created in 2013 – the same year Montana had the lowest number of residency positions of any state in the country – to develop family physicians who are compassionate, clinically competent and motivated to serve patients and communities in rural and underserved areas of Montana.

Residency training location is one of the largest factors determining where physicians choose to practice and the populations they choose to serve. For this reason, UM’s program strives to train more residents in rural areas during their training years.

The program accepts 10 new residents each 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.

So far, UM’s program has graduated six classes, and 72% have gone on to practice in rural or underserved areas, with 70% remaining in Montana communities, including Browning, Helena, Lewistown, Libby, Polson, Red Lodge, Ronan, Butte, Miles City, Columbia Falls and Whitefish, Missoula and Kalispell.

The residency program is sponsored by Missoula’s Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center, as well as Logan Health in Kalispell. Resident and faculty physicians have outpatient clinics at Partnership Health Center in Missoula and Greater Valley 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.