Maine to med students: Come for the education; stay for the rural life.
Like a lot of rural states, Maine has real trouble attracting and keeping doctors, particularly those who practice primary care.
Maine is trying a new tack, though, to boost the ranks of primary care doctors in the state.
Earlier this month, the second-ever class of medical students began studies in a program run jointly by Boston's Tufts Medical School and the Maine Medical Center, the state's largest teaching hospital, based in Portland.
The program creates a "Maine track" for students likely to end up practicing in the state. After spending the first two years in Boston doing the usual coursework, the students head north to Maine, where they spend their final two years doing rotations and clerkships at the medical center and elsewhere in the state.
"Medical students tend to practice where they train, and our hope is that by offering an affordable, quality education close to home, we'll retain some of the state's best and brightest minds," says Peter Bates, the medical school's academic dean and the hospital's VP for medical and academic affairs.
In each class, 20 of the program's openings are set aside for Maine residents, students attending Maine colleges, or students from adjacent New England states. The out-of-staters also qualify for special scholarships to reduce their tuition burden to what would be comparable to attending public universities in their home states.
This week, All Things Considered takes a look at the primary care shortage in a three-part series, focusing on Maine.
Michael McDonald is one primary care doctor who's pulling for the program to succeed. He runs Sebasticook Family Doctors, a community health center that serves about 8,000 patients in four counties in central Maine.
He just lost one of his doctors and knows it won't be easy finding a replacement. The program to lure medical students to Maine only goes so far. Med students are turning their backs on primary care when it comes time to pick a specialty.
"I would love residency programs to somehow get more of their graduates into primary care, but I'm not sure how you do that," says McDonald, who will be featured in part three of the primary care series.
"I'm not sure how you make it a sexy thing," he says. Primary care is "hard work," and doesn't pay as well as specialties. Student ask why they should go into it, given all the headaches and problems. "You've got to really love it," he answesr.
Now he'll get a chance to persuade some new students to give Maine life a try.