AAFP honors SMHS with national Top-10 Award for fifth consecutive year

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News Article

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School of Medicine & Health Sciences


GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences received the American Academy of Family Physicians Top-10 Award for its consistent contributions to building the family physician workforce. The award, presented on April 26 during the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine annual spring conference, marks the fifth consecutive year the school has received the honor.

Each year during the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine spring conference, the AAFP presents its Top-Ten Awards to honor medical schools that — during a consecutive three-year period — graduated the greatest percentage of students who chose first-year family medicine residency positions. The 2015 awards include two schools that tied, and 11 awards were presented.

Accepting the award for the UND SMHS was Kwanza Devlin, M.D., associate director of the Minot Center for Family Medicine; and James Beal, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine in Grand Forks.

“It is an honor to be part of a medical school that prioritizes family medicine,” Devlin said. “As a family medicine physician and an educator, I recognize that our task has only just begun in developing a health care workforce to match the needs of North Dakota and our nation.”

At a time when the United States is facing a shortage of primary care physicians, filling the pipeline is vital to the health of America, according to AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D.

“Although we’ve seen incremental growth in student interest in family medicine, those increases will not meet the skyrocketing demand for family physicians,” Wergin said. “These top schools are outstanding examples of the commitment to building the nation’s family physician workforce, and I commend them for their leadership, their faculty for their commitment and their entire staff for helping ensure that Americans have access to the care they need.”

The importance of family physicians also has escalated as the complexity of primary care has intensified. In addition to providing preventive and first-encounter care, family physicians diagnose and treat patients with conditions ranging from a sore throat to multiple, complex conditions such as diabetes combined with congestive heart failure. Research has shown family physicians are the usual source of care for more than 6 in 10 patients with anxiety, depression or diabetes; 6 in 10 patients with cancer; and nearly 6 in 10 patients with heart disease. Recent research has shown that 86 percent of visits for asthma occur in primary care physician offices, compared to 14 percent in subspecialist offices, and 84 percent of visits for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are in primary care physician offices, compared to 15 percent in subspecialist offices.

Stan Kozakowski, M.D., AAFP director of medical education agreed. “Medical school admissions policies, the academic and clinical experiences with family physicians, and rural medicine tracks have significant influence on students’ choices. The schools honored today have made important investments in these and other invaluable programs that help students understand the importance of family medicine and the professional satisfaction the specialty brings.”

He commended the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences for its ongoing focus on ensuring Americans have access to primary medical care.

“Five consecutive years of recognition says much about the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ focus on educating students to meet the needs of the nation,” Kozakowski said.

Top-10 Awards schools employ several initiatives that support students who are interested in and most likely to become family physicians. Those initiatives include student outreach, admissions policies that target students from rural and medically underserved areas, clinical rotations that emphasize positive experiences in family medicine, faculty involvement in medical school committees, strong family medicine interest groups, and financial aid packages that minimize student debt.

The UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences has several unique programs designed to educate students about the benefits of family medicine. The nationally recognized Rural Opportunities in Medical Education (ROME) program places third-year medical students in several rural communities in North Dakota for a seven-month rotation. In 2010, the UND SMHS signed its first RuralMed Scholar; currently there are 22 students enrolled in the program. The goal of the RuralMed Scholarship Program is to recruit, educate and retain physicians who will practice family medicine in rural North Dakota. The program absorbs the tuition costs for all four years of medical school for students who agree to practice family medicine in a rural area of North Dakota for five years. The SMHS, through UND’s Centers for Family Medicine in Bismarck and Minot, has also partnered with West River Health Services in Hettinger and Mercy Medical Center in Williston, respectively, to train physicians to practice rural family medicine. The first residents began training on July 1, 2014. The SMHS also supports the Altru Health System Family Medicine Residency Program — a rural track as part of the family medicine program.

The 2015 award recipients and their percentage of graduates entering family medicine are the following:

  • The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences — 20.8%
  • University of Kansas School of Medicine — 19.7%
  • University of Minnesota Medical School — 18.8%
  • Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University — 18.5%
  • University of Washington School of Medicine — 17.6%
  • Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine — 16.9%
  • Florida State University College of Medicine — 16.2%
  • University of Missouri, Columbia, School of Medicine — 16%
  • University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health — 15.9%
  • University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine — 15.8%
  • University of New Mexico School of Medicine — 15.8%

“The school is grateful for the recognition bestowed on our efforts by the AAFP Top-Ten Award,” said Joshua Wynne, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., UND vice president for health affairs and dean of the UND SMHS. “Credit our success to Dr. Robert Beattie, chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, and now-retired Clerkship Director Dr. Roger Schauer, who have worked hard to develop our nationally recognized family and community medicine program, along with the many family physicians throughout the state who help educate our medical students and residents and demonstrate to them firsthand the joys of family medicine practice.”

“Our success as a department rests on the shoulders of the volunteer, community faculty who engage our students and provide them a tremendous experience in family medicine,” Beattie said. “It is this opportunity to witness physicians enjoying their work with patients that makes a lasting impression on students. The department could not do it without their dedication to educating our future physicians.”