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Baystate Franklin, UMass partner to boost prospects for rural health

  • The Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield.

Published: 5/26/2017 3:07:04 PM

Like healthy eating, a partnership that will bring medical students to train in Greenfield could deliver a payoff for local residents in the long term.

The new partnership between Baystate Health and the University of Massachusetts medical school in Worcester is slated to bring prospective doctors to train at Baystate Franklin Medical Center with the hope some may choose to establish their practices in the area when they are ready to hang out a shingle.

The initiative aims to attract medical students from the region who might be predisposed to work in western Massachusetts, either in an urban setting like Springfield or a more small-town setting like Greenfield. Students from the region will begin their schooling this fall with a focus in both urban and rural primary practice medicine. The upcoming class of 25 and future cohorts will do their clinical work in one of three Baystate Medical facilities, including Baystate Franklin.

The hope is that students who want to focus on rural medicine will be more likely to stay and serve the Franklin County area after their clinical or residency work — unlike some of the current medical students from Boston schools like Harvard, Tufts and Boston University.

The program — titled Population-Based Urban and Rural Community Health — expects to draw students who are interested in rural medicine, according to UMass and Baystate officials. Baystate Franklin President Cindy Russo said the program might also attract newly minted doctors with a special interest in addiction medicine  –which, sadly, seems to be a growing field.

“It’s a big deal,” said Dr. Ruth Potee, who heads the Franklin Recovery Center addiction rehabilitation facility in Greenfield. “These are people that at least on paper I want to be on the front line for primary care for rural medicine.”

And even before that outcome, the hospital may benefit from the contributions of the students as they perform hours of clinical work locally. And while they are here, local health leaders like Potee hope, some of the students can take their clinical learning outside the hospital to local health care facilities like the Recovery Center or the Community Health Center.

We often hear about a shortage of family practice doctors in the nation and locally, so this initiative can help address that long-term concern.

Meanwhile, the Greenfield hospital also plans to open a family medicine residency program in 2019 through a regional educational grant the hospital received.

This residency program will dovetail with the medical school clinical program, essentially giving graduating UMass medical students a path to complete their training in Greenfield where they began and then set them up to work in the area. Part of the plan is to try to increase the number of doctors over time who hail from the western part of the state.

While in the past, nurses unions and others have worried that being part of the larger Baystate Health group might pull services away from the Greenfield’s hospital, in this case we see the connection benefiting the area in the long term, especially if we attract more talented medical doctors interested in rural medicine to set up practice here.

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