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Coeur d’Alene family medical residency starts in June

Primary care physicians, already in short supply, are expected to grow scarcer still from a wave of family doctor retirements in the next few years.

But there’s renewed interest in family medicine among medical school graduates, and for the first time a group of them will do their graduate work in Coeur d’Alene.

Kootenai Health will have six young doctors arrive in June for the inaugural class of its new Family Medicine Coeur d’Alene Residency program.

“This is fantastic,” said Dr. Dick McLandress, the program director. “This is just a great project for the community, and personally for family medicine it’s great to see so much enthusiasm generated among physicians, our patients, administrators at the hospital. It gives really positive energy to health care.”

Idaho ranks 49th in the nation for doctors per 1,000 people. A recent assessment found a need for up to 72 primary care physicians locally by next year.

“In the next five to seven years, our entire region is going to lose 40 to 50 percent of family doctors to retirement,” McLandress said.

Recognizing that trend, the University of Washington School of Medicine supports a growing network of family medicine residency programs in the Northwest. The new Coeur d’Alene program joins 20 others in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.

Kootenai’s program will be housed in a $16.6 million Kootenai Clinic building that opened near the hospital in November. The three-year program will ramp up to 18 residents starting in summer 2016.

The residents will have rotations in the clinic as well as at the hospital, including internal medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics and surgery. In their second and third years, residents will gain experience in subspecialties such as ophthalmology, dermatology, orthopedic surgery and rural medicine.

The program will begin with a faculty of six doctors who will see patients and instruct the residents. Two more doctors will join the faculty in the next two years. Together, the faculty and residents will care for 6,000 to 8,000 patients, McLandress said.

Interest in the new program was strong, with 430 applicants for the six spots. Kootenai interviewed 60 graduates, and four women and two men were selected last week through a national residency match program. They hail from the University of Washington and other medical schools around the country.

“You realize that all of these applicants are amazing people,” McLandress said. “We feel good about it. It’s a good mix.”

High-paying subspecialties have been a popular career track for young doctors in recent decades, but now there’s a swing back to family medicine, he said.

“We’re seeing just a whole lot of applicants who are very interested in service,” he said. “We’re also seeing many more women: 50 to 60 percent are women.”

A key goal of the program is to entice the young doctors to stay in the area after they complete their residencies. The mountains, lakes and abundant outdoor pursuits in North Idaho will help in that effort, McLandress said.

“We’re shooting for 60 to 70 percent retention,” he said.