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ISU’s successful Family Medicine Residency Program has plans to expand including rural residency spot in Rexburg

February 22, 2018

Photo of residency class of 2020
From left, the ISU Family Medicine Residency Class of 2020, from left, Brian Hansen, DO, Amber Nielsen, MD, Austin Bills, DO, Marc Allan, DO, Zack Buck, DO, Andrew Lewis, DO and Tanya Lawrence, DO.

POCATELLO – Idaho State University’s highly successful and lauded Family Medicine Residency Program continues to answer Idaho’s physician shortage and has plans for expansion, which includes a rural training track in Rexburg that could begin in 2019.

Headshot of Rex Force“We have a great track record and we are ready for our next phases of growth,” said Rex Force, ISU vice president for Health Sciences.

The three-year ISU residency now graduates seven family medicine physicians annually, about half who stay in Idaho to practice medicine. In the last 25 years, since the program’s initial accreditation, the ISU Family Medicine Residency has graduated 123 family medicine physicians, including 61 who now practice in the Gem State. These ISU Family Medicine Residency graduates now provide primary care to an estimated 120,000 Idahoans, addressing a crucial need in the state.

“Idaho ranks 49th in the country for physicians per capita, leaving us with multiple underserved communities in rural populations throughout the state,” said Dr. Bill Woodhouse, director of external relations for the ISU Family Medicine Residency. “There is a need for more residency spots in Idaho where residency students can train. Site of residency is the strongest predictor of where someone will practice. With that in mind, we have come up with plans for expansion.”

 During its last annual evaluation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the ISU Family Medicine Residency Program received full accreditation for its 21 residents and received a commendation.

“The Review Committee commended the program for its demonstrated substantial compliance with the ACGME’s Program Requirements and/or Institutional Requirements, without any citations,” stated the Review Committee’s notification letter.

The residency has ambitious plans to offer more seats and continue its stellar performance addressing some of Idaho’s most pressing health care needs, pending funding. The ISU Family Medicine Clinic has laid the groundwork for a proposed Rural Training Track in Rexburg.

ISU has proposed a new rural track where, initially, a new resident will spend his or her first year at the home site in Pocatello at the ISU Family Medicine Clinic, and then spend the final two years of the residency in Rexburg. Eventually, as other expansion plans are put in place, ISU would add another Rexburg Rural Training Track residency seat for a total of two.

“Our initial site accreditation visit for our Rexburg rural track site is in March,” said Dr. Kelli Christensen, ISU Family Medicine Residency Program associate director and the program’s rural graduation medical education director. “We should hear back in May if we have the ACGME’s approval to move forward.”

If ISU receives that accreditation approval, it will then start recruiting students this fall with the hope of starting the rural residency program in Rexburg in fall 2019.

“We need to expand the number of residents trained in Idaho, therefore increasing the number of students likely to stay in Idaho as practicing physicians to serve those rural and underserved communities,” Christensen said.

There’s one big hitch in these plans, however. Although the ISU Family Medicine Residency Program received initial funding to complete the groundwork for offering this rural health track residency in Rexburg, it does not have guaranteed funding to complete this important task.

ISU has approached the State Board of Education and the Idaho Legislature to receive 30 percent funding support for the Rexburg Rural Training Track.

“Right now, we’re looking to expand to help meet the primary care workforce needs of the state and this accreditation step is an important milestone,” Force said. “We want to develop this rural residency pathway in Rexburg, and expand our base program in Pocatello. There is exceptional need for more primary care physicians in this state.”

The ISU Family Medicine Residency program has other plans for expansion over the next 10 years, including adding a different rural residency program besides the one in Rexburg and expanding the base ISU Family Medicine Residency by two seats.

To expand the base ISU Family Medicine Residency in Pocatello, however, it would require constructing a new clinic space.  The plans for that new clinic space would include sharing the facility with the ISU Division of Health Science’s proposed program to develop an Eastern Idaho Psychiatry Residency in collaboration with the University of Utah.

Despite a lack of guaranteed funding for these projects currently, ISU is undeterred.

“These projects require so much ground work that if we waited for complete funding before we started, we’d never get anything done,” Woodhouse said.

Photo informaton: Lower photo is Rex Force, ISU vice president for Health Sciences.