March 21 will be a day for Billings Clinic’s history books.
That is when the first class of doctors will be identified to begin the clinic’s new Internal Medicine Residency. Residents will be identified by the National Resident Matching Program, a computerized process managed by the American Association of Medical Colleges.
It is traditionally known as Match Day and is the milestone in the lives of residents when they learn where they will be practicing medicine.
The inaugural six-member class will be selected from among more than 1,500 applicants from around the world and 131 personal interviews on the clinic’s campuses. The program is designed to train primary care physicians.
“We are looking forward to welcoming them into our team, to share our vision of ‘better care for individuals, better health for our population, and better value, plus joy in the work of caring for others,’ ” said Dr. Roger Bush, program director.
In addition to the six internal medicine residency slots, four additional spots will be reserved for applicants who need only a one-year clinical base before going elsewhere to train in a specialty such as radiology, ophthalmology, dermatology and anesthesiology.
The Internal Medicine Residency Program is the first of its kind in Montana and Wyoming. It was accredited last year for three years by the Chicago-based Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the maximum length of time for an initial accreditation. It was one of only four internal-medicine residency programs in the country to achieve accreditation.
At full capacity, the residency program could be producing as many as six new doctors a year.
The hope is that those new doctors will choose to practice in Montana, where most counties have a shortage of primary care physicians and 10 counties have no physician at all.
The program will open to the first class of residents in July.
Billings Clinic’s program coincides with predictions that in the next decade, the country will be short an estimated 50,000 primary care physicians to meet the need. Compounding the shortage is health care reform under the Affordable Care Act, which is expected to flood the system with new patients. More than 30 million Americans will be newly eligible for health care, according to Dr. Bill Iobst, vice president of academic affairs for the American Board of Internal Medicine.
More than 20,000 Montanans live in counties without a primary care physician, according to MHA — An Association of Montana Health Care Providers. And at least 52 of the state’s 56 counties are federally designated primary-care physician shortage areas.
A residency typically is the final step in 11 years of post-secondary training. A high school graduate planning to become a physician needs four years of college for a bachelor’s degree, four years of medical school and then three more years as a resident under another doctor’s guidance.
There are currently 385 certified internal-medicine residency programs in the country. Only one program was accredited to start July 1, 2013. Six accredited programs began July 1, 2012, according to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.