Incentive program aims to help doctors pay off medical school - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Incentive program aims to help doctors pay off medical school debt

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(10/25/12) - To combat the country's doctor shortage, a Mid-Michigan hospital has a prescription for retaining physicians in underserved communities.

McLaren Bay Region in Bay City has launched an incentive program aimed at helping doctors pay off their medical school debt.

Dr. Jay Summer heads up recruitment for McLaren Bay Region in Bay City. He says the need for primary care physicians is increasing at an alarming rate.

That's why the hospital and its foundation took matters into their hands.

"Recruiting to communities of this size is sometimes challenging, but we try to utilize any edge we can," Dr. Summer said.

The demand for doctors is as high as it's ever been.

"You can have all the specialists in the world. If you don't have any primary care, you will be sorely lacking in ability to deliver medical care," Dr. Summer said.

Perhaps, the numbers tell an even bigger story. The patient to doctor ratio in Bay County is 2,030 to 1 compared Midland's 558 to 1. That's why McLaren Bay Region is stepping up to entice medical students to start a career in Bay County. The hospital is recruiting 13 primary care physicians in the areas of family practice, internal medicine, and pediatrics.

"We have an aging medical staff obviously and this keeps a constant supply of young, energetic and good physicians coming into the community," Dr. Summer said.

Dr. Summer says one way the medical center is making it more attractive to practice in the area, is giving new physicians an incentive by helping to pay off their med school debt.

"This is an idea that actually adopted from the state of Illinois, where I was in practice before," he said. "We award this going into their fourth year of medical school and for that last year of medical and three years of their residency, they get $25,000 a year that will hopefully go back to paying back some of those loans."

The medical student grant program will award one recipient each year with $100,000. But there is one catch. The new physician must agree to practice in primary care and stay in Bay County for five years.

"The hope is if they are here for five years that they are going to stay here long term. We aren't looking for someone to do five years then move on, we want someone to spend their professional life here," Dr. Summer said. "Especially in view of the medical school going into CMU, which will also emphasize primary care. I thought that would dove tail nicely."

Dr. Rebecca Britt-Deyer is McLaren Bay Region's first medical school grant recipient.

"I grew up always being fascinated with medicine and the human body," she said. "I had a family doctor in Au Gres who was just very informational and helped peak my interest in the field of family medicine."

A graduate of Michigan State University's medical school, and newly married, Dr. Britt-Deyer couldn't pass up the opportunity to apply for some extra financial help.

"I thought it would be very beneficial between student debt and interest rates and decreasing physician reimbursement, it's somewhat overwhelming with the financial burden that we come away with in medical school and residency," she said.

Britt-Deyer is in her second year of residency at McLaren Bay Region. While it's not a requirement for students to do their residency at the hospital, for Brit-Deyer, it seemed like a perfect fit.

"We're told in medical school that doing residency in the area that you're interested in practicing is a good idea. I also liked the program. This was my base hospital when I was in school. I was really fortunate to work with and rotate with the doctors I have, that was part of the appeal in staying. There's really a close knit community feel here," she said.

The 29-year-old was one of five people who applied for the grant and hopes this will encourage her fellow doctors to think twice about a primary care specialty.

"I feel honored to be part of it. Obviously, being the first, you don't know what to expect, but that's OK," she said. "I do think it's going to be positive for everyone involved. I had always planned on family medicine. It is one of the lowered paid specialties. We still need people, a lot of medical students shy away from family medicine partly because of the financial situation at times. So I had to follow my heart and it's nice to have support in the form of this grant just to relieve some of the debt, but also to know that I'll be providing a service."

"It is a win -win," Dr. Summer said. "The community wins, hospital wins, patients win, there's no downside to it really. I think this really goes a long way in fulfilling a need of the community and hospital going forward into the foreseeable future."

McLaren Bay Region is taking applications for the next year's grant now until February. Click HERE for more information.  

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