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The KU School of Medicine ranks among the nation’s leaders in educating primary care, rural care and family physicians

May 01, 2018

By Greg Peters

Serving the people of Kansas through the creation and promotion of model health care programs is a primary tenet in the mission of the University of Kansas Medical Center. To that end, the KU School of Medicine takes particular pride in being among the nation's leaders in educating primary care physicians, many of whom will stay in the Sunflower State, thus fulfilling the medical center's goal of providing high-quality patient-centered care to the citizens of Kansas. 

While there is no perfect metric to judge how well a medical school is in meeting the needs of its constituency, the KU School of Medicine, which includes campuses in Kansas City, Salina and Wichita, fares among the nation's finest in the areas of primary care (95th percentile), producing doctors who are working in rural settings 10 to 15 years after graduation (96th percentile) and family medicine physicians (98th percentile) as determined by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC).

"These numbers are a validation of the culture and programs we have created to support those who have chosen primary care careers," said Garold Minns, M.D., dean of KU School of Medicine-Wichita and a graduate of that institution. "While we're proud of our achievements, more is needed. We need more primary care physicians in Kansas. Primary care physicians are the foundation of medical care systems."

Each year, the AAMC uses its Missions Management Tool to provide a granular evaluation of each of its member medical schools so they can assess how they are faring in meeting the institution's own specific goals based on the history, location, faculty and governing body, among other factors. Because of the varying nature and missions of its members, the AAMC forgoes a single overall ranking and looks at 48 data measures in six mission categories as a way of painting a more complete picture.

The six mission areas AAMC used this year included:

  • Graduate workforce that addresses the priority health needs of the nation
  • Prepare a diverse physician workforce
  • Foster the advancement of medical discovery
  • Provide high-quality medical education as judged by recent graduates
  • Prepare physicians to fulfill the needs of the community
  • Graduate a medical school class with manageable debt

Graduates of the University of Kansas School of Medicine's three campuses practice throughout many of the state's 105 counties. From the urban core in Kansas City to the farthest reaches of Western Kansas along the Colorado border, KU-trained doctors can be found caring for underserved populations and rural communities where they may be the only health professional for several miles.

"Like many states, Kansas is facing a physician shortage," said Michael Kennedy, M.D., FAAFP, professor and associate dean of Rural Health Education at KU Medical Center. "What makes the situation acute is that there is an uneven distribution of physicians, which leaves underserved areas with critical shortages. In rural and frontier areas of Kansas, there are 34 counties that have two or less physicians in them."

In such instances, doctors are often left being on-call around the clock every other night throughout the year. There are 10 counties in Kansas with no physician at all, which means patients must travel long distances for care. This is especially problematic for emergency and obstetric care.

"As the only medical school in Kansas, one of our main missions is to address issues of the rural medical workforce," Kennedy said. "Along those lines, KU has developed several rural programs specifically designed to recruit bright students to the challenging and rewarding practice of rural medicine."

Premedical students from rural Kansas have many opportunities to learn about medicine, according to K. James Kallail, Ph.D., associate dean for research at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. "Almost all premed students shadow physicians, and in rural communities the physician they shadow is likely to be the community family physician. That person is often the first and primary mentor and role model for the student."

For some, the shadowing experience leads to more formal opportunities sponsored by the KU School of Medicine, including open houses on each campus, the Primary Care Workshop on each campus and the annual statewide Premedical Student Conference.

Kennedy further echoes this sentiment. KU supports programs in grades K-12 that promote medical education. Programs with exceptional records of success in the School of Medicine are the Scholars in Rural Health, Kansas Medical Student Loan program, the Rural Medicine Interest Group, the Summer Training Option in Rural Medicine, rural options for clerkships, the four-week rural preceptorship program and the Kansas Bridging Plan.

The Salina campus, which was founded in 2011, was conceived with the understanding that's its main focus would be on addressing the ever-growing need for primary care doctors to work in rural areas. With only eight students per class, the Salina campus is well-suited for self-starters and problem-solvers, which often make them a good fit for working in rural communities where resources may not be as prevalent as they are in larger cities.

Producing primary care doctors has become a hallmark of KU's three medical school campuses. On average during the past 10 years, roughly 46 percent of the graduates have matched in primary care residencies.

The Wichita campus was born in 1971 out of the need for hands-on clinical training for students in their final two years of medical school and has grown into an integral part of the training of primary care physicians practicing throughout the state. The Wichita program, which expanded to four years in 2011, is community-based with more than 1,000 volunteer faculty located at three partner hospitals. As a result, students benefit from exposure to a wide variety of clinical experiences, especially family medicine.

"I think the family physician culture has developed because of some far-sighted thought leaders from the 1960s in and near Wichita," said Rick Kellerman, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine in Wichita. "We have excellent residency programs and good relationships with hospitals and support groups like the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians.

"We try to impress upon our students the importance of the doctor/patient relationship: patients value the personal care and relationships they have with their family doctors. And we have a large group of skilled and dedicated family physicians in Wichita and rural Kansas."

Last modified: Jul 26, 2018