Wright State creates new residency program in Darke County

Rural Ohio has a shortage of doctors; hope is the program will help address the issue.

Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine will open three residency slots in Darke County next year to address a shortage of doctors in rural Ohio communities.

The residency program is meant to train doctors to work in rural Ohio, where health care systems struggle to find enough doctors to meet community needs, Wright State said. All doctors need to complete residency, on top of attending medical school, before they begin practicing independently.

“The residency program is a wonderful opportunity to share our exceptional rural practice experience with a new generation of physicians,” said Dr. Carlos Menendez, program director for the new residency program. “The program will also help sustain a robust physician workforce for generations to come.”

Menendez has been practicing medicine for 36 years in Greenville, which was selected for its training facilities and existing facilities, as well as the need for doctors in Darke County.

While about 20% of the U.S. population lives in a rural community, only about 10% of doctors work there, according to Wright State. That 10% of doctors are also getting older.

To address that problem, the location of the residencies matters, as 19% of family medicine practitioners practice within five miles of where they completed their residency, and 28% of physicians practice within 25 miles.

“This is an important aspect as we see our established physicians retire,” Menendez said.

He hopes the residency program would also create trust between the residents training in Darke County and the community. Just more than 51,000 people live in Darke County.

The residency program is supported by a $750,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency has awarded 59 of these grants since 2019, and Wright State is the only Ohio recipient, according to the university.

The program leaders eventually hope to get high school students from Darke County and other rural communities interested in family medicine and begin a pipeline to Wright State.

Lori Martensen, director of Rural Health Initiatives at the Boonshoft School of Medicine, said there are other programs to help the rural medicine pipeline, including the Wright Rural Medical Scholars Program, which allows medical students to complete clinical rotations in rural health systems.

“To increase the number of physicians in an underserved community, such as most of rural West Central Ohio is, you must have residency programs in the community,” Martensen said.

She noted residents of rural places tend to be older and sicker, and farming is a particularly dangerous occupation. Having a doctor nearby is vital for the health of the people in the community, she said.

“The burden should not be the patient to travel long distances for primary care because that isn’t an option for all people,” Martensen said.

Residents in the rural family medicine program will first go to the Wright State Family Medicine Residency in Dayton, usually at Miami Valley Hospital, followed by two years in Greenville, where they will see patients at Wayne HealthCare, Family Health Services of Darke County, and other Greenville community sites.

The Wright State Rural Family Medicine Residency is now accepting applications, and it will start its first cohort of three residents in 2023.

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