118 more doctors-in-training are due in Tucson under new agreement

By Becky Pallack

Southern Arizona will have 118 additional doctors-in-training in the next three years under a new sponsorship collaboration between University Physicians Healthcare and the University of Arizona.

University and hospital leaders hope that will help ease the local physician shortage.

It’s a rare thing for hospitals to be adding residents, who are medical-school graduates beginning their training as physicians. That’s because the cash-strapped Medicare program is the major funder, and the budget for residents hasn’t changed since 1997.

However, the university and the health-care company technically are a new sponsor, so Medicare is willing to allocate money for new doctors — but only in a three-year window.

That “puts us in a great position,” said Victoria Murrain, assistant dean for graduate medical education at the UA.

The partnership, called the Graduate Medical Education Consortium, will help Arizona attract residents in seven fields, including internal medicine, psychiatry and radiology.

Compared with other states, Arizona has a low rate of residents. There are only 1,230 statewide — including 476 at the University of Arizona — which puts Arizona 40th in the nation for the number of doctors-in-training as a percentage of the population.

It isn’t that doctors don’t want to train here. It’s just that there are so few positions available.

For the four new internal medicine positions, the consortium received about 100 applications, Murrain said. “Our goal is to fill that void and create opportunities,” Murrain said.  “Hopefully we’ll attract students from all over the country to experience the Southwest.”

The lack of opportunities for doctors to receive their residency training in an Arizona hospital has contributed to the shortage of physicians here. And with the number of medical-school graduates on the rise, Arizona is a net exporter of new doctors.

“I think this is critical for the physician shortage,” Murrain said. “We need physicians who have learned the patients we care for, the diseases we see, the management we use.”

It would be hard to find a more diverse patient population than that of Southern Arizona, which includes rural and urban patients, refugees from around the world, and large populations of Hispanics and American Indians, Murrain said.

The new residents will be UA employees, but their positions are funded by a variety of sources: Medicare, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the University of Arizona and sponsor hospitals.

Their salaries start at $42,000 a year, plus benefits, and increase with experience.

The new residents will be based at University Physicians Hospital, but they will work at most hospitals in the Tucson area.

Small medical centers in Sierra Vista, Sells, San Xavier and some Northern Arizona reservations also will receive residents on rotation.

The University of Arizona also has increased its number of residents, up 17 positions last year when Medicare re- allocated some funds. More new positions are in the accreditation process.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at 573-4224 or at bpallack@azstarnet.com.

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