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Most people who've tried know that it can be tough to get an appointment with a primary care doctor. The good news is that more and more med students are starting to show an interest in family medicine. But the country's top med schools aren't keeping up with the demand. Jenny Gold, with our partner Kaiser Health News, has this story from New York about a school that's trying to change that.
JENNY GOLD, BYLINE: Top-rated medical schools have always focused on specialties and research, not primary care. Schools like Harvard, Yale and Cornell don't even have departments of family medicine. Until recently, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York was on that list too. Fourth year med student Demetri Blanas says many of his professors actively discouraged him from going into primary care, with a list of complaints: Too much work. Lousy pay. Boring cases.
DEMETRI BLANAS: It has a big impact over a long period of time when your mentors who are the ones that you're supposed to be learning from don't think that you're making a good career choice.
GOLD: But Mount Sinai is changing. In June, the school started its very own department of family medicine. Dr. Dennis Charney is the school's dean.
DR. DENNIS CHARNEY: This is a fundamental change in expanding primary care at Mount Sinai. So it's a big deal for our institution.
GOLD: The new family physicians on faculty will teach students in all four years of medical school. And students like Blanas will be able to spend more time training in community health clinics like those run by Dr. Neil Calman in New York.
DR. NEIL CALMAN: So we're on the third floor of the Sidney Hillman Health Center, which is one of the Institute for Family Health's 30 primary care sites.
GOLD: Two years ago, the Institute for Family Health decided to build a giant new clinic in Harlem, Mount Sinai's neighborhood. That's when Mount Sinai approached Calman and asked him to partner with the hospital. Calman was intrigued but skeptical.
CALMAN: It's pretty hard to have a family medicine-based organization in a hospital and a medical school that doesn't recognize it as a specialty.
GOLD: So Mount Sinai decided to work with Calman to start a department. It's just the sort of partnership that hospitals across the country see as the future of medicine. That's because the federal health law offers bonuses to health systems that keep people healthy and out of the hospitals. And they do that by ramping up the kind of primary care offered at Calman's clinics.
CALMAN: Here, come look at this. So your blood pressures are controlled, your blood sugar's controlled. You're doing a great job with the medications. And, you know, doing all...
GOLD: Calman has been helping patients manage chronic illnesses like diabetes for the past 30 years. He's optimistic that students at Mount Sinai will want to follow in his footsteps.
CALMAN: I went into family medicine believing that it was exactly what the country needed. Unfortunately, it's taken little longer for everybody to realize that than I expected.
GOLD: Mt Sinai's Dean Charney is also hopeful.
CHARNEY: If you have medical schools like Mount Sinai and Harvard and Yale and Columbia and Penn saying that this is an important part of the future of medicine, there'll be a trickle-down effect to the students who will say, yup, you know, that's what I want to do. I want to be at the vanguard.
GOLD: It's too early to know how many Mount Sinai students will actually pick family medicine this year, but nationally over the past three years, the number of med students who go into family medicine has grown by 20 percent. For NPR News, I'm Jenny Gold.
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