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Physician workforce office assists residency program

physicianA budding venture to put more physicians to work in Mississippi has scored its first triumph with the potential of a new family medicine residency program, only the third of its kind in the state.

Dr. Diane Beebe, interim director of the newly formed Office of Mississippi Physician Workforce, announced that Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg has submitted documents for accreditation of a family medicine residency to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education that oversees all residency training.

“This shows that the Office of Mississippi Physician Workforce is up and running and on the move,” said Beebe, professor and chair of family medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), where the workforce initiative is housed.

Beebe also announced that a search is on for a permanent director of the Office of Mississippi Physician Workforce, which was launched in April to reverse Mississippi’s standing as the state with lowest per-capita supply of primary care physicians, including family physicians, general internists, pediatricians and obstetrician-gynecologists.

“By legislation, the director must be a physician,” Beebe said. “We are starting a national search and a statewide campaign to seek qualified applicants who might be interested in this permanent, paid position.”

The new director will head an initiative funded by state lawmakers and led by a 21-member advisory board chaired by Dr. John Mitchell, a family physician from Tupelo. The board will help determine where in Mississippi physicians are needed most.

A major mission of the workforce is to support and help fund new family medicine residency programs like Forrest General’s.

“We want to be able to place family medicine training programs in at least one or two other places in the state over the next five years,” Beebe said. “Forrest General has been working on its program a couple of years, but the funding has been an issue.

“It takes several million dollars to start a program. The workforce provided an initial outlay of money for the hospital to get it on its way. Obviously, we have to wait for accreditation, but I definitely believe it will happen.”

Forrest General’s goal is to begin training up to six family medicine residents a year by July 2014. For now, only UMMC and North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo have such a program.

In order to help create others, as well as to assess and monitor the physician workforce needs of the state, the Physician Workforce office will seek more, and expanded, funding each year from the legislature, Beebe said.

The Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians first championed the Physician Workforce initiative; the Mississippi State Medical Association and UMMC supported its creation in a bill sponsored by State Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb.

On signing the legislation in April, Gov. Phil Bryant alluded to Mississippi’s need to add an extra 1,000 physicians to its workforce by 2025.

“Expanding our state’s medical residency programs will directly increase the number of physicians who remain in Mississippi to practice… . (A)nd more doctors means better health care for our citizens,” Bryant said.

Blake Wilson, a member of the workforce’s executive committee, said its efforts will be critical in addressing the physician shortage.

“You prove it works, with programs such as the one at Forrest General, and then you hope for more funding,” said Wilson, president and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council”.

“We believe Forrest General will be a model,” he added.

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