University of Montana President Royce Engstrom was in Kalispell Friday to tout a new physician residency partnership that is expected to benefit rural Western Montana.
“It will transform health care in Montana, particularly in Western Montana,” Engstrom said while visiting with the Inter Lake editorial board along with some of the university’s top administrators and Dr. Craig Eddy, chief medical officer at Kalispell Regional Healthcare.
The Western Montana Family Resident program is a partnership involving the university, St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center in Missoula, Kalispell Regional Healthcare and community health centers in Kalispell and Missoula.
Starting next summer, 10 graduate physicians will be put to work in a three-year residency program. Ten residents will be brought into the program every year thereafter, so Western Montana will eventually have 30 resident physicians.
“This is a cooperative effort that is just incredible,” said Eddy, who has been coordinating with the university for years to make it come about.
Eddy described an “old model” of health care in which hospitals and clinics largely operated on their own and in fact were often “heavy competitors.”
That is not the case with the residency program.
“It really has been the university that allowed this to come together,” Eddy said. “There is a focus on education and not competition.”
Resident physicians will spend their first year in Missoula with an emphasis on education at the university. They will disperse throughout the region for their second and third years. Some will operate out of Kalispell Regional, rotating to places such as Libby, Eureka and Ronan.
Eddy said it is a sorely needed addition to a health-care community that has become highly integrated, because even 30 resident physicians may not be able to keep up with the number of doctors who retire every year.
David Forbes, UM’s vice president for research and development, said the program will recruit top medical school graduates, most likely from the University of Washington, where 25 Montana undergraduates go every year.
“We’re looking for 10 to come back,” Forbes said. “We’re going to a have a shot at the top graduates.”
Eddy noted that there will be an emphasis on graduates who come from Montana. “There are sons and daughters of Montana who really want to stay in Montana,” he said.
Engstrom talked about other developments at UM, such as a new program requiring students to pass an online tutorial on campus safety. More than 10,000 students out of a student body of 15,000 have passed the Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness tutorial so far.
The program was developed at the university in response to highly publicized sexual assault cases, some involving student athletes, that have prompted investigations by the Department of Justice and the NCAA.
Engstrom said the program has been generally well-received but has been subject to some criticism.
Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at email@example.com.