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Idaho’s Short Supply of Pediatric Doctors

October 25, 2021

Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, St. Luke’s Team Up to Improve Kids’ Care

Boise, ID – Idaho ranks 50th out of 50 for the number of pediatricians per 100,000 children (According to the American Board of Pediatrics, the national average is about 90 pediatricians per 100,000 children; Idaho has about 42.). Dr. Kenny Bramwell, St. Luke’s system medical director for children’s services, thinks the gap is worse now, given that the state’s population has increased significantly but the number of pediatricians has not kept apace.

Earlier this month, Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, with a 46-year history of family medicine physician education for physicians who have settled and provided care throughout our region and country, learned it has been accredited to start a pediatrics residency, to train pediatricians.

Dr. Perry Brown, a pediatrician and FMRI’s current director of pediatric education, will become program director of the new pediatric residency. He, along with Dr. Ted Epperly, CEO of FMRI, and Drs. Kenny Bramwell and Bart Hill of St. Luke’s, have been part of discussions around the need for this type of program for 10 or more years.

As Dr. Brown made the rounds to determine interest in such a program, he was well-served by a slide that showed graphically that there are no pediatric training programs in the northern part of the United States from Seattle and Portland to the Midwest.

“There is not a pediatric residency that exists between the Pacific Coast and the Minnesota border,” he said. “It is a vast, empty pocket, completely void of pediatric residencies.”

The consequences are many and meaningful. Many physicians tend to stay in the geographic areas in which they are trained, so no training, no doctors. Without a robust community of physicians in the same specialty, others are less likely to come to an area. And without that physician community, the other clinical specialists who are needed to support the patient population are also less likely to be attracted to an area.

Idaho and neighboring states, all of which constantly face challenges having to do with physician and specialist shortages, are even further behind when it comes specifically to pediatricians and pediatric specialists.

While FMRI turns out great family medicine physicians, many of whom stay in the area as they begin their practices, the challenge of complex childhood illnesses, detection of uncommon diseases and the like most often benefit from the specialized skills of those who have stayed focused throughout their schooling and training largely on pediatric care.

“This is long overdue for the people of Idaho,” Dr. Bramwell said. “We have a dearth of pediatricians in Idaho. It’s been a long-term problem.”

St. Luke’s is making a significant financial investment in the new residency program as it comes together. St. Luke’s relationship with FMRI runs deep, with St. Luke’s physicians teaching FMRI physicians-in-training while seeing patients through their St. Luke’s locations.

As part of FMRI’s current family medicine training, residents spend more than five months focused on children’s care. Pediatric residents will spend their entire 36-month residency focused on children’s care.  The new residency will help to shape future pediatric practices – and fill a training gap that, quite literally, spans half the country along its northern border.

Dr. Brown, who applied to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in April to begin the program, is planning for FMRI to host four residents per year throughout the three-year residency, a dozen total residents three years in, with the first class beginning in July 2023. He is now pulling together all the necessary pieces, lining up instructors and looking for a suitable location that will serve as the Pediatric Residency of Idaho’s pediatric clinic. As has been the case with the family medicine residents, the pediatric residents also will see patients in St. Luke’s Children’s hospital settings.

St. Luke’s has committed $1.7 million to help launch the program; over time, federal and other grants may help to offset costs, but Dr. Brown believes the model can be self-supporting.

The value of the program, he and the others believe, cannot be overstated. And given the population growth, the growth of St. Luke’s Children’s and its programs and the multistate need, the timing is right.

There are some region-specific benefits as well. Dr. Brown notes that pediatric mental health, which suffered greatly throughout the pandemic, is an area of particular need in Idaho and rural parts of the country. Idaho’s pediatric residency program also is aimed to become a standard for training pediatricians to work in rural areas. One of our Pediatric Residency primary goals is to develop a novel model for locally based pediatrician access within rural locations of our region. Our residents in training will be providing care in these regions towards the development of this model.

“We do not have a great model in the United States for pediatrician access in rural places,” he said.

Media Contacts:
Becky Lynch, Communications Coordinator
Family Medicine Residency of Idaho
(208) 514-2500 x1072
BeckyLynch@FMRIdaho.org

Taylor Reeves, Public Relations Coordinator
St. Luke’s Health System
(208) 318-8650
reevest@slhs.org