Need for access to adequate health care leads to new opportunities for UIW medical school students

SAN ANTONIO – For those who have it, access to adequate health care is easy to take for granted. But a report released by the state a few months ago shows an increasing number of Texans will have trouble getting in to see a primary care physician in the coming years.

The shortage of primary care physicians will grow 67 percent by the year 2030 — from 2,002 to 3,375 — according to the Department of State Health Services.

There are a lot of reasons for this trend, but the founding dean of the University of the Incarnate Word’s new medical school said she believes one of the major factors is the educational process.

“Many schools don't focus on primary care. They focus on specialties. Many times, there's something called a hidden curriculum, meaning the faculty and some specialties might not think that primary care is as valuable as those of us in primary care do. So you'll hear things said, like, 'Oh you're too smart to be a family physician,’” said Dr. Robyn Phillips-Madson, founding dean of the school.

UIW’s School of Osteopathic Medicine welcomed its first inaugural class in fall 2017.

While DO students can go into any specialty, osteopathic medical schools tend to promote primary care. And UIW’s instructors are also trying to instill a focus on service in their students.

VIDEO: What is osteopathic medicine?

A few years ago, when UIW first considered opening up a medical school, they were thinking of going the MD route.

“Dr. (Louis) Agnese, who had the vision for this school, heard about osteopathic medicine from a physician,” Phillips-Madson said. “As he investigated osteopathic medicine more, it became clear that the values of osteopathic medicine really fit with the values and the mission of the University of the Incarnate Word.”

The holistic approach of osteopathic medicine is part of the reason the students chose UIW.

“I ended up having an osteopathic physician. I had a really fantastic experience with that physician, and it was something that opened my eyes to look more into it,” said Jessica Gale, a second-year student.

“The more and more I learned about DO, the more and more I learned about UIW itself, the more and more I learned to love it,” said Kevin Weisson, another second-year student.

In their third year, students will start full-time clinical activities. One of the rotations is underserved medicine, including treating within rural areas, urban areas and with correctional and military populations.

“This is really the best place for us to be. We can impact the community in the way that we couldn't if we were just adding to the population of physicians on the North Side,” Phillips-Madson said. “A portion of the South Side is designated as a medically underserved population by the government.”

Students have already started working on community engagement. Twice a month, they are put in groups and partnered with families from the Southside Independent School District to talk about different aspects of health.

“It can be legal services, social services, help with electrical bills,” Phillips-Madson said.

“I feel like I really connected on a different level rather than, like, behind the stool and patient table. I’ve been able to kind of take that away and just talk as a person with them,” said Karos Torres, a second-year student.

The medical school has also started a student-run clinic program with faculty at Mission San Juan, where they offer free, basic primary care services.

“To just be able to help people this early on is something that I never really thought I would have been able to get at any other school,” Weisson said.

While UIW can’t tell students what to do after graduation, Phillips-Madson said they encourage their students to stay in Texas after they graduate and move on to their residencies.

“We hope they fall in love with caring for people who are underserved and that feeds their soul enough to stay and do the same for a career,” Phillips-Madson said.

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