National Analysis: Medical School Ranks High in Graduates in Underserved Areas

A recently released study shows that the Mercer School of Medicine is one of the most successful schools in the nation at producing physicians that practice in rural areas, shortage areas, primary care, family medicine, and low-income areas. The study found that Mercer, whose mission since it was established more than 25 years ago has been to prepare primary care physicians for rural and underserved areas of the state, ranks second in the nation in the percentage of graduates practicing in low-income areas of the school’s home state.

The study, conducted by the American Association of Family Physicians’ Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, in partnership with HealthLandscape LLC and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, used data from the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile to map practice locations for each active physician practicing in the United States. Funded by a grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, researchers used the information to attach each physician to a current medical school program and a county of practice.

On the project’s website (www.medschoolmapper.org), maps of the United States show which counties a state or school’s graduates are serving, whether a state or school’s graduates are caring for underserved communities, whether a state or school’s graduates are working in rural communities, and whether graduates are practicing in their state of training.

The map reveals both footprints and penetration. A footprint provides information on the geographic distribution of graduates, while penetration gives information about the number of physicians per total population, as well as the number of one type of physician compared to all practicing physicians in that area. The footprint of the Mercer School of Medicine, as well as its penetration rate, demonstrates its commitment to rural and underserved communities of Georgia and the Southeast.

“While the U.S. faces a significant shortage of physicians, and an even greater shortfall predicted in coming years, the Mercer School of Medicine has consistently produced highly qualified graduates to meet the healthcare needs of Georgia and the Southeast,” said Dr. William F. Bina III, dean of the School of Medicine.

More than 64 percent of Mercer medical school graduates remain in Georgia to practice – the best retention rate of any medical school in the state. The School of Medicine is ranked second out of 160 schools in the nation in the percentage of graduates practicing in low-income areas of the school’s home state and is ranked fifth in the nation in percentage of graduates practicing in low-income areas of the country. The School is ranked third in the nation for the percentage of graduates practicing in rural areas of Georgia and sixth in the nation for percentage of graduates practicing in rural areas of the U.S. Mercer is also ranked third in the nation for percentage of graduates entering primary care in Georgia and seventh overall for the percentage of graduates entering primary care in the U.S. The School of Medicine is also ranked in the top 10 for percentage of graduates practicing in HPSA/MUA shortage areas in Georgia and the United States, as well as in the top 10 for percentage of graduates entering family medicine in their home state.

The Mercer School of Medicine’s success at targeting rural and underserved communities comes at a time when physician shortages pose a critical challenge to medical care in the United States. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the passage of health care reform, while setting in motion long-overdue efforts to insure an additional 32 million Americans, will increase the need for doctors and exacerbate a physician shortage driven by the rapid expansion of the number of Americans over age 65. The AAMC’s Center for Workforce Studies reports that there will be 45,000 too few primary care physicians – and a shortage of 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists – in the next decade. The shortfall in the number of physicians will affect everyone, but the impact will be most severe on vulnerable and underserved populations. These groups include the approximately 20 percent of Americans who live in rural or inner-city locations designated as health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). 

“The School of Medicine’s strong commitment to rural and underserved Georgia communities addresses the mounting problem of physician shortages,” Dr. Bina said. “As this study illustrates, Mercer has remained true to its founding mission and has consistently produced well-qualified graduates to serve the communities that lack adequate health resources. Mercer School of Medicine is the only institution in Georgia to be ranked in the top 10 in five categories: graduates practicing in rural areas, graduates practicing in shortage areas, graduates practicing in low-income areas, graduates entering primary care, and graduates entering family medicine.  The Mercer School of Medicine can be proud of its mission and its contributions to healthcare in communities throughout Georgia and the Southeast.”

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