(Joplin, MO) — In an effort to address a shortage of family practice physicians in rural communities, Freeman Health System is expanding its residency program offerings to include family medicine. Every three years, Freeman publishes a community needs assessment for the Joplin area. In 2016, that assessment revealed the need for more family medicine doctors. Freeman started putting the building blocks in place at that time, and now a long-time dream is becoming a reality.
“Through this new family medicine program, Freeman Health System directly addresses the shortage of primary care physicians by opening up more residency opportunities for physicians-in-training,” said Paula F. Baker, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our program will provide in-depth education across the human lifespan to prepare physicians to care for patients of all ages, from newborns to senior citizens.”
Freeman received notice of accreditation in October with Kansas City University as its sponsoring institution, and the application process for residents and educators is now open.
Each resident will train for three years, for a total of fifteen family medicine residents when the program is full. The association between Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences College of Osteopathic Medicine and the graduate medical education program in place at Freeman dates back more than 40 years.
“Freeman has a fine and proud history of general medical education training programs,” said Dr. Robert McNab, Freeman Vice President of Medical Education. “Freeman East, formerly known as Oak Hill Hospital, was the first area hospital to have a family medicine residency producing graduating physicians, like Dr. Bruce Akuna, who continue to serve local patients. The program was phased out when demand created a need for emergency room residency, psychiatric residency, and ear, nose and throat residency programs, which Freeman continues to provide.”
“We are planning to have a group of educators that includes full-time and part-time physicians, as well as specialists in a variety of disciplines,” said Dr. Barbara Miller, Family Medicine Residency Program Director. “Our residents are licensed physicians who will work under fully credentialed physicians. Every facet of care will be incorporated into their training. It operates like an apprenticeship. Residents will have the capability to do everything from stitches to minor surgery, from newborns to senior citizens. A key factor is building relationships with patients and families.”
Family medicine residents will serve at Access Family Care as their primary clinic and in rural clinics. They will also work in the hospital and do rotations with their mentors and specialists, providing them with a variety of educational focuses.
“They will work with children and adults in the hospital setting at Freeman West, deliver babies and train in orthopaedic issues, cardiology, pulmonology and surgery,” said Dr. Miller. “They will also work in tandem with psychiatric residents and professionals. Family physicians often listen to concerns of patients and help deal with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, as well as alcohol and other substance abuse problems.”
The expansion of Medicaid and the impact of the pandemic (causing physician fatigue and early retirement) have created added demand for family practice physicians that is greater than the supply. Freeman’s residency program will help fill the gaps in the number of family medicine doctors and rebuild the primary care workforce in the area.
“According to a 2019 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges, more than 64% of graduates from family medicine residencies continue practicing in the state where they completed their training,” said Baker. “There’s nothing like our family medicine program in the region, and we’re thrilled to give back to the communities we serve through this investment in primary care physicians. By increasing the number of residency slots, we hope to retain some of these physicians to serve the people of the Four States.”