Michigan family physicians seek funding to halt rural staffing crisis


MIDOCS receives $6.4 million from the state annually, plus matching federal money. The program expanded in 2023 to include behavioral healthcare providers.

In a media briefing Monday, Michigan Academy of Family Physicians President Dr. Glen Dregansky called MIDOCS a “really neat partnership” that could help address a growing shortage of family physicians if funding were increased. The Academy of Family Physicians at a minimum would like to see a multi-year funding commitment to MIDOCS so students don’t lose their funding in the middle of their residency.

Increased funding for MIDOCS “is an investment in the health of Michigan residents,” Dregansky said.

The Michigan Academy of Family Physicians would also like to see increased public support for the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program to help medical school graduates with college debt. The program helps employers recruit and retain primary care physicians in underserved markets in exchange for practicing in those areas.

Additional support for MIDOCS and the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program can bring more medical students to specialize in family medicine, which is experiencing an acute shortage, Dregansky said.

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“Proper funding of these programs will address this shortage before it becomes a full-blown crisis,” said Dregansky, a family physician in Jackson County who noted that family medicine is one of the lowest-paid specialties. “I’m one of the old guys. I’ve been practicing for 40 years. Eventually, I’m going to retire. Somebody needs to replace me.”

In the briefing, Dregansky and others touted primary care’s role in keeping people healthy, managing chronic medical conditions, and helping to prevent costly ER visits and hospitalizations.

Primary care physicians also cited how just one in eight medical students today enters family medicine each year. That ratio needs to double to one in four “in order to help stop the primary care doctor workforce shortage,” said Dr. Jean Wong, director of the University of Michigan’s family residency program.

More than half of the medical students graduating from a Michigan medical school leave the state, Wong said. She urged “strong action” to keep more medical school graduates in Michigan and increase the number of graduates going into primary care and family medicine.

Ongoing public support is not only needed to provide the infrastructure to train family doctors, “but our medical schools and the health care system also must incentivize and promote family medicine as an attractive option for students who have lots of choice in front of them,” Wong said.

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“Heath care, education and societal systems have to inspire, recruit and support a more diverse medical school population that better represents the US and to reward students who are more likely to choose primary care careers and practice in underserved areas,” she said.

In last week’s annual Match Day, when medical students are matched with care providers across the US for their residency, one-third of primary care slots went unfilled, “potentially rendering many communities acutely understaffed for primary care doctors,” Wong said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges forecasts that the US will have a shortage of up to 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034. Michigan currently needs 862 primary care physicians, “and that’s just to maintain the status quo,” said Dr. Julie Phillips, chair of family medicine at MSU’s College of Family Medicine, cited a report by the Washington, DC-based health care think tank Robert Graham Center.

Nearly 560 family physician residency positions in Michigan remain unfilled, according to the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians.

“As many of our family physicians age and retire, and our population ages, the need for primary care will be even greater in the years to come,” Phillips said. “So, if the primary care shortage is not addressed and not addressed quickly, all of these problems will get worse in our state.”

This story first appeared in MiBiz.


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