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Osteopathic physicians march on Washington, demand funding for teaching health centers

In 2015-2016, teaching health centers turned out more than 700 new doctors, could nearly close the physician shortage by 2020.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Photo courtesy of American Osteopathic AssociationPhoto courtesy of American Osteopathic Association

More than 1,000 osteopathic physicians and medical students marched to Capitol Hill Wednesday, sending their message to Congress that federal funding of teaching health centers, which train primary care physicians in clinical settings, must be continued, the American Osteopathic Association announced.

In 2015 and 2016 alone, teaching health centers turned out more than 700 new doctors, an influx that could nearly close the physician shortage by 2020 if lawmakers continue funding for these residencies, the AOA said.

This is especially true in the case of rural and underserved areas, they said, citing a policy research brief by The Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy and The RCHN Community Health Foundation that said about 50 million Americans have trouble getting timely medical care because they live in rural, urban or suburban areas suffering from a shortage of primary care physicians.

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[Also: Physician appointment wait times spike, highlight growing doctor shortage, survey finds]

Roughly 742 residents are currently dispersed among 59 THCs in 27 states and the District of Columbia. They are expected to provide more than one million primary care medical visits in 2017 to underserved communities. However, support for teaching health center residencies constituted less than 0.5 percent of the annual federal outlay committed for training physicians in FY2016.

"This type of training teaches you how to take care of people who may have extremely complicated lives and face challenges that you don't find in a medical textbook," said Keith Egan, a family medicine resident at Unity Health Care in Washington. "Osteopathic medicine is a whole-person approach to patient care, which is why so many DOs choose careers in primary care and want to get their training in a community they hope to serve."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn