Cover Story

Primary concerns

"Primary concerns" Continued...

Issue: "Medical care circus," Feb. 25, 2012

In the annual report for Medicare's trust fund, trustees predict that if physicians stop getting adequate raises from Medicare, they are likely to just stop accepting those patients altogether. The report states, "Many experts doubt the feasibility of such sustained improvements and anticipate that over time the Medicare price constraints would become unworkable and that Congress would likely override them."

Family medicine as mission

By Lynde Langdon

Skippy Sanchez/Genesis

As the pay and prestige of family physicians has declined, family medicine as a discipline has transformed into a mission field.

"When I was in medical school and I decided to go into family medicine, I think a lot of people were like, 'Why?'" said Dee Ann Stults, a 31-year-old family physician who works at a clinic for low-income patients in Wichita, Kan. "I think primary care is sort of considered lesser than in some ways."

Stults says her decision to enter family medicine was God-led: "When I first went into medicine I considered it something that was going to lead me into a mission field for Christ. I never really thought of it as, 'This will get me fame and fortune or whatever.'"

Benjamin Anderson is counting on doctors with Stults' same attitude to staff his hospital in rural Kansas. Anderson started as CEO of Ashland Health Center three years ago, and the hospital's only physician resigned soon after. The hospital relied on a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner to care for patients. Ashland has 855 people and is a two-hour drive from the nearest Starbucks.

"A lot of people want to work in a suburban area with great schools and affluent people," Anderson says. Stymied by traditional recruiting efforts, Anderson decided to look for physicians who shared his sense of calling to serve the underprivileged. He offered eight weeks of paid time off to physicians who would come to Ashland to serve. Though the physicians can use the time off however they choose, the package was designed to allow for overseas mission trips. Every employee gets four to eight weeks.

Anderson has spread the word about his open positions through the Christian Medical and Dental Association. He said that the candidates he interviews are "not interested in huge lavish homes. ... They want to know, 'Where's my opportunity to serve?'" He has received six inquiries about the jobs in the past year and hired one physician.

Anderson has also worked with leaders from the family medicine residency program at Via Christi Health in Wichita, the same program where Stults trained. He said the Via Christi residency program tends to draw mission-minded physicians. Dave Sanford is the CEO of Grace Med in Wichita, a nonprofit organization that owns the clinic where Stults works. He said he can easily recruit residents from the local program to serve in the low-income clinics: "Young people aren't so much money-driven, that's what I'm finding out. ... There's so many of them that have a desire to serve, which is refreshing."

Lynde Langdon
Lynde Langdon

Lynde lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. She holds degrees from the University of Missouri in journalism, Russian, and business administration. She is in a long-term, committed relationship with the Lutheran church. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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