The critical shortage of primary care physicians in medically underserved areas has been complicated by Congressional inaction on funding for Teaching Health Centers and other safety net organizations. Authority Health in Detroit is one of 56 such centers in the United States that trains primary care physicians in community health centers along with required hospital training. Upon completion of their training, these physicians are more inclined to practice in underserved areas.
Unlike the traditional graduate medical education programs funded through Medicare, teaching health centers are funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration and subject to renewal. Funding for the program officially expired on Sept. 20, 2019. Congress has issued temporary funding extensions that makes it difficult to recruit and retain residents.
Research conducted by the American Association of Teaching Health Centers has found that eight out of 10 teaching health center graduates are committed to primary care, and more than half want to work in underserved communities, compared with 23 percent in traditional training programs. Most of Authority Health’s graduates – 64 percent – are practicing in medically underserved areas or among medically-underserved populations and our residents treat nearly 7,000 people annually who may not have had received primary care services.
Teaching Health Centers are vital for preparing the primary care physicians we need, to practice in the communities that need them. Congress needs to create a more viable funding mechanism for this program, not only for its survival, but for creating the primary care physicians we need in the future.