ECU among nation's best for putting doctors in underserved areas
(June 15, 2010)
The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University ranks among the top medical schools in the country for producing primary care doctors who practice in places where they are needed most, according to a study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
ECU has the seventh-highest "social mission" score in the study by researchers at George Washington University. ECU's ranking is the highest of the four medical schools in North Carolina, and ECU is the only school in the state to score among the nation's best.
"It's great to be recognized for the work we've been committed to carrying out for so long," said Dr. James G. Peden, associate dean of admissions at the Brody School of Medicine.
To determine the true outcomes of medical education rather than the intermediate preferences of medical students and residents, researchers studied physicians in practice after the completion of all training and national obligations, such as military service or National Health Service Corps placements. The researchers examined data from medical school graduates from 1999 to 2001, which provided a very different picture than previous studies.
Previous analyses, such as the popular U.S. News & World Report rankings, have relied on the initial residency selection or reported specialty preference of students. The George Washington study pinpoints where graduates are and what type of medicine they actually practice.
Among the study findings were that schools with a community rather than research focus tend to produce more primary care physicians and physicians who practice in underserved, often rural areas. ECU fits those criteria, having been established in the 1970s to produce primary care doctors for North Carolina. Schools with a history of recruiting and educating minority physicians, such as ECU, also fared well in the study.
Each class at Brody is made up of North Carolina residents, and more than half of them stay in the state to practice, many in the rural eastern and western ends of the state. Peden said Brody's admission process has always looked for more than stellar academics. "A fit with the mission … a demonstrated record of service to others are just as important as grades or test scores," he said.
Earlier this year, the Society for Teachers of Family Medicine ranked Brody second in the nation for its production of family medicine doctors.
With medical schools expanding for the first time in more than 30 years, the findings bring attention to the role that medical schools play in determining the make-up of the U.S. physician workforce. The study authors note that as patients are insured through health reform, the first place they will go is the primary care office, rather than to the office of a specialist, which research-oriented medical schools tend to produce.
"Where doctors choose to work, and what specialty they select, are heavily influenced by medical school," said lead author Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, a professor of health policy at George Washington. "By recruiting minority students and prioritizing the training of primary care physicians and promoting practice in underserved areas, medical schools will help deliver the health care that Americans desperately need."
The study was funded with a grant from the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.