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Published in Alumni Publications on January 16, 2013
Gov. Phil Bryant addresses participants in the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program (MRPSP), an initiative to place more doctors in underserved areas. Dr. Diane Beebe, interim director of a similarly-motivated effort, the Office of Mississippi Physician Workforce, also serves on the MRPSP board.
Gov. Phil Bryant addresses participants in the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program (MRPSP), an initiative to place more doctors in underserved areas. Dr. Diane Beebe, interim director of a similarly-motivated effort, the Office of Mississippi Physician Workforce, also serves on the MRPSP board.

New statewide initiative to swell physician ranks

Not only is Dr. Diane Beebe helping shepherd a national crusade to bring more medical students to the family medicine fold, she’s also spreading the message directly to the home folks.

Picked to head a national effort as chair-elect of the American Board of Family Medicine, Beebe also has been assigned to temporarily fill the bully pulpit of the newly-launched Office of Mississippi Physician Workforce housed at UMMC.

As spelled out in a bill signed into law in April 2012 by Gov. Phil Bryant, the group’s mission is to swell the state’s supply of primary care physicians, including those who practice family medicine.

Beebe, professor and chair of UMMC’s Department of Family Medicine, is the workforce initiative’s interim director and will remain on its advisory board even after a national search yields a permanent one.

“We’re getting formed and we hope to make a difference,” Beebe said.

Right now, that hope is playing out in Hattiesburg, where the Physician Workforce is helping Forrest General Hospital assemble what would be only the third family medicine residency program in the state.

Forrest General has pursued a program for about two years and made a bid for accreditation to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which oversees all residency training, Beebe said.

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

Added to the existing residency programs at UMMC and North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, Forrest General’s could eventually help ease the physician shortage in the state with the lowest per-capita pool of primary care physicians: 8.3 doctors per 10,000 residents, compared to the national average of 12.8. Besides family medicine physicians, primary care doctors include general internists, pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists and others.

“We’ll determine how many med students we need to be graduating from UMMC and from William Carey University,” said Beebe, referring to the latter’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Hattiesburg.

“Then we’ll seek to increase the numbers of those students who choose to do primary care; we want to keep them in the state by having enough residency spots for them. The ultimate goal is to put more primary care physicians on the ground in rural Mississippi.”

Upon signing the workforce legislation sponsored by state Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, the governor stressed Mississippi’s mission to add an extra 1,000 physicians to its total 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.

New, emerging residency programs may receive financial support from money appropriated by the state legislature and awarded by UMMC with guidance from the workforce’s advisory board.

That board is led by Dr. John R. Mitchell of Tupelo, a family physician who will serve a two-year term as chair, and vice-chair Dr. Hugh A. Gamble II of Greenville, a vascular surgeon, both of whom also serve on the workforce’s executive committee.

“I believe we’ve learned the hard way ever since the Medical Center got its feet on the ground in the mid-1950s that we do a better job of growing our own doctors than we do importing them,” Gamble said.

“But there’s no way to expand the family medicine residency program at UMMC so that it can take up all the slack. … The logical answer is to spread these programs across the state. The legislature and governor have stepped up and put some money on the line to get the ball rolling.”

Blake Wilson, a member of the executive committee and advisory board, said the Physician Workforce is a “critical element” in reducing the doctor deficit.

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

That is Beebe’s hope as well.

“My other hope is that, over the next five years, we will be able to place family medicine training programs in at least one or two other places in the state,” she said.

“With expanded funding, we will be able to entertain more requests for startups of residency and physician programs.

“We’ll be able to do what we need to do.”