The Methodist/UICOMP family medicine residency program is working to fill a growing need in central Illinois.

Healthcare reform. It’s all over the news. Politicians may argue about the solutions, but virtually everyone—from government leaders to healthcare executives to patients themselves— agrees that the American healthcare system is broken. As the nation struggles to find ways to bring rising healthcare costs under control, the role of the family physician is becoming increasingly important. And while the American Academy of Family Physicians projects the nation could face a shortage of 40,000 primary care doctors by 2020, central Illinois is fortunate to have a resource located right in the heart of the community.

A Rising Need
Family medicine has a long and rich history at Methodist Medical Center. In 1971, Methodist partnered with the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP) to develop a family practice residency program—the third in Illinois and the first outside of Chicago. Since then, Methodist has turned out highlytrained family physicians at a rate of five to ten per year. Over 300 physicians have graduated from the program, and more than half went to fill critical vacancies in communities with populations of 30,000 or less. Currently, 23 physicians at Methodist Medical Group offices in central Illinois are graduates of the residency program.

Dr. Thomas B. Golemon, FAAFP, is chair and professor of family and community medicine at UICOMP. He says the family medicine residency, based at Methodist Family Medical Center on the UICOMP campus, is designed to provide a steady stream of physicians, both regionally and statewide.

Dr. Golemon says there’s been a growing demand for family medicine physicians for some time, and with healthcare reform and its focus on accountable care organization-based primary care providers, the need will become even greater. Accountable care organizations (ACOs) are groups of doctors and other healthcare providers who work together to provide high-quality, cost-effective care for Medicare beneficiaries. ACOs are intended to transform care delivery through the development of new payment models to create and reward value while enhancing clinical quality at a lower cost.

Jumping the Hurdles
Key to that is the family physician. Providers within an ACO are expected to work together to provide coordinated care, and who better to coordinate that care than the patient’s primary doctor? But while demand for family physicians continues to grow, Dr. Golemon cites the current physician pay structure as a challenge in attracting new doctors to the field. Golemon says it’s hard for a physician fresh out of medical school, with a mountain of loan debt, to be drawn to family medicine when specialists in cardiology and other subspecialties earn three to four times the annual salary of primary care doctors.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in 2009, Dr. Fitzhugh Mullen, head professor of medicine and health policy professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, cited statistics highlighting the problem:

Dr. Golemon points to the many graduates of the family medicine residency program who are providing care in our community and around the state—like Dr. Devashish Agarwal, a 2006 graduate who recently joined Methodist at Pekin. By providing physician candidates to medical facilities in Illinois, the program helps reduce recruitment costs for hospitals, while delivering proven candidates whose work ethic and patient care are known commodities, thanks to the residency program.

As healthcare continues to evolve, Dr. Golemon feels confident the Methodist/UICOMP family medicine residency program will play an important role in strengthening medical care for the entire state, now and in the future. iBi