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UND ranks fourth in producing family physicians

UND's medical school ranked fourth in the country for producing family medicine physicians, according to a study by the American Academy of Family Physicians, a national advocacy group.

UND's medical school ranked fourth in the country for producing family medicine physicians, according to a study by the American Academy of Family Physicians, a national advocacy group.

Family practice physicians are the first line of defense for major health problems, but family practice is among the lowest paying medical specialties, making it increasingly unpopular among medical students, said H. David Wilson, dean of UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

About 17 percent of UND medical school graduates specialize in family practice, compared with about 8 percent at medical schools nationwide, according to the AAFP.

"Family practice is very demanding, especially in rural areas," Wilson said. "It's a lot of responsibility and long hours and a lot of nights on call, but it's at the bottom of the heap in terms of remuneration."

With medical students' average loan debt coming in well over $100,000, Wilson said, it is increasingly difficult to convince students to go into the field. He said UND has combated that national trend with the Rural Opportunities in Medical Education program, which places medical students with rural family physicians and other internship programs.


In addition to exposing medical students to family practice, those programs offer significantly more one-on-one contact between students and practicing physicians than is available at most medical schools, said Joshua Wynne, the medical school's executive associate dean.

"The negatives for family physicians are outweighed by the satisfaction of getting to know generations of a family and watching the maturation of young children from infants to adolescents and adults," Wilson said. "That's extremely rewarding."

Despite UND's success at training family physicians, the school still struggles to keep those doctors in North Dakota and struggles even more to send them to rural parts of the state. Out of 62 medical school graduates this year, 11 went into family medicine, Wilson said, but only about four of those students took jobs in North Dakota.

"We take enormous pride in the number of family physicians we produce, but that only partially addresses the rural/ urban issue," Wynne said.

The medical school attempts to meet rural health needs through the ROME program and partnerships with the Center for Rural Health. Wilson said many UND medical school graduates also return to the state after a few years of experiencing another part of the country.

U.S. News and World Reports' 2008 edition of America's Best Graduate Schools ranked the UND medical school fifth in the nation in commitment to rural medicine.

Marks reports on higher education. Reach him at (701) 780-1105, (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or jmarks@gfherald.com .

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