12 new medical residents are selected as region tries to address physician shortage

SANTA ROSA -- The Family Medicine Residency Program at Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa announced its incoming class of 2015, selecting 12 medical school graduates out of 618 applicants -- about half of the nation's 1,200 plus applicants in family medicine.

The three-year program, one of 450 family medicine training programs in the United States, is affiliated with the UCSF School of Medicine and has trained hundreds of family physicians since its inception in 1938.

And it's become an increasingly vital asset to the region's health care landscape, as the county, the state and much of the nation confronts a persistent and emerging shortage of primary care physicians.

The county faces a shortage of up to 200 physicians over the next 10 years,  according to a study commissioned by the Sonoma County Department of Health Services and the Sonoma County Medical Association. The study said the county has some 350 primary care physicians, which is better than the ideal range of 60 to 80 doctors per 100,000 residents. Still, an estimated 22 percent of the county’s primary care physicians are expected to retire and another 6 to 8 percent plan on leaving the area.

In addition the shortage, the nature of primary care has changed dramatically, with more and more physicians joining larger, more coordinated systems versus running a private practice.

“Health care is changing in this country and the old models of family medicine, where a physician sits in the office and waits for patients to come to them, are out-dated. In our recruiting, we have positioned ourselves as one of the innovators in the world of family medicine education,” said Jeff Haney, residency program director.

The residency program has been the largest single source of family physicians to Sonoma County for over 70 years, with graduates comprising nearly half of family physicians in Sonoma County -- from private practices, federally qualified health centers, public health and large medical groups.

In recent years, Sutter has enlisted the help of both the Santa Rosa Community Health Centers and Kaiser Permanante, which recently announced it, too, would launch a family residency program that trains six physicians per year in Sonoma County. The two programs combined will graduate 18 physicians per year while training a total of 42 per year. Similarly, Santa Rosa Community Health Centers obtained a grant to begin a nurse practitioner residency program as a means of training more primary care providers, not just physicians, for the region.

Dr. Haney said the program is poised to foster innovation among the county's physician workforce, in turn creating a more integrated and a better local health care system.

“We have emphasized the development of leadership skills and innovation in the course of residency training and have actively recruited students who want to lead in creating new models of primary care that make patient-centered medical homes a reality across the socioeconomic spectrum," he said.  "From our recruiting results this year, we believe we have been very successful. We, the faculty, look forward with great eagerness to working with these physicians to build a better health care system.”

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