Eye On Boise

Medical residency programs 'a smokin' deal' for the state, lawmakers told

Legislative budget writers heard today about the medical residency programs in Idaho, which train medical residents in psychiatry and family medicine here though the state lacks a medical school. That's considered key because doctors tend to settle and practice where they finished training. The psychiatry residency, started in 2007, trains medical school graduates for four years, but the first two years are in Seattle. So far, two have completed the program, and both have decided to stay and practice psychiatry in Idaho. "Idaho spends about a dime on the dollar for our program," said Dr. Jeralyn Jones, program director, "so it's a smokin' deal." Hospitals and the V.A. Medical Center pay for 90 percent of the cost; there are now nine residents in the program.

In family medicine, two programs, one an independent nonprofit in Boise and the other based at Idaho State University, offer three-year residencies in family medicine for med school graduates, aimed at persuading the young doctors to establish practices in rural and small-town Idaho. With 56 percent choosing to stay and practice in the state, the programs rank 8th in the nation for retention. The 35-year-old Family Medicine Residency of Idaho program gets 50 percent of its funding from patient fees, 25 percent from participating hospitals, 8 percent from grants and 7 percent from the state. The ISU program gets 14 percent of its funding from the state. Dr. Ted Epperly, head of the Family Medicine Residency, said the residents spend time each of the three years working in rural hospitals with local doctors, "so that they understand what it's like to be a family doctor in a small town, and that is part of the magic of helping them understand and fall in love with those communities."

Idaho ranks 50th in the nation for its number of psychiatrists, with only five per 100,000 people; and 49th in the nation for the number of physicians per population. "We are 33 percent undermanned in terms of family doctors in the state of Idaho, so we have continued work to do," Epperly said. Idaho also has the second-oldest physicians, meaning retirements threaten to worsen the numbers further. The  residency programs aren't asking for any increase in state funds, but a $300,000-plus donation from Blue Cross will help the family medicine residency cover growth costs.




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