Serving the underserved

New HRSA-funded residency program has openings for DOs across the country

Budding multistate family medicine residency program is designed to train DOs who will practice in medically underserved areas.

Positions are still available in a new multistate AOA-approved family medicine residency program designed to train DOs who will practice in medically underserved areas. Funded by a $4 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the burgeoning program is the result of a partnership between the Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education and the A.T. Still University, School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA) in Mesa.

The residency debuts July 1 with 29 funded positions divided among six community health centers:

As of Feb. 26, all of the sites but those in Arizona and Oregon had available positions. More updated information can be found on the AOA’s post-match Web page for students.

The program is open to applicants from any osteopathic medical school.

“We’re seeking individuals who are interested in serving the underserved,” says Thomas E. McWilliams, DO, ATSU-SOMA’s associate dean for graduate medical education. “Just as we osteopathically treat the whole patient, we look at the entire applicant.”

Residency candidates who have volunteer experience in inner-city or rural areas or on overseas medical missions will have an edge, he says

Model program

A potential model for other collaborative multisite programs, the Wright Center-ATSU partnership aims to help address the nation’s primary care physician shortage, given that physicians tend to practice close to where they train.

“We know that family physicians who train in federally qualified health centers are more apt to work for them down the road,” says Steve Trent, DO, the AOA’s director of program training review services.

“I’m not expecting all of the program’s graduates to practice in community health centers for the remainder of their careers. But if we get these individuals to practice in underserved areas for five to 10 years after residency,” says Dr. McWilliams, “what an improvement that would make in our health system.”

Administered by the Scranton, Pa.-based Wright Center, the residency program has a DO director of medical education and a DO program director, who oversee osteopathic training at the six community health centers. This solves one of the major roadblocks to starting new AOA-approved residencies in underserved areas: In some locales, it can be difficult to find osteopathic physicians with the credentials needed to become DMEs and directors of AOA-approved programs.

Dr. Trent is impressed by the collaboration of ATSU-SOMA, the Wright Center and the community health centers. “It seems to be a good symbiotic relationship,” he says.

The residency is funded through the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program, established by the Affordable Care Act. In contrast to most GME programs, which are hospital-based and funded by Medicare, this initiative tests an alternative way of providing and financing GME, with HRSA directly funding the teaching health centers.

Help for the unmatched

Osteopathic medical students can get up-to-date information on available graduate training positions by checking the AOA Post Match.

With direct funding not filtered through medical centers or hospitals, residencies such as the Wright Center-ATSU collaboration will be able to train more physicians in the communities where they’re needed, Dr. McWilliams says.

“Residents in our program will be on the cutting edge of medicine, taking part in a more outcomes-based, team-based approach to medical care,” he says.

The five-year HRSA grant will fund up to 29 new residents a year over the next three years. Dr. McWilliams says his main concern is securing a sustainable funding source for the residency. He anticipates that long-term funding for the Wright Center-ATSU program will come from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, HRSA, the Department of Veterans Affairs and private sources.

For more information on the Wright Center-ATSU residency, contact Lisa D. Watts, DO, the director of osteopathic medical education, at

1 comment

  1. I’m a Board certified psychiatrist and subspecialty Board-certified child psychiatrist, age 58, seeking to re-train myself in primary care through a program like the Wright Center-ATSU program as described in the above article. I received a National Health Service Corps scholarship for my D.O. training from 1989 – 92, when I graduated from the Des Moines Osteopathic School now known as Des Moines University.
    I served for seven years in southeastern Missouri in a private practice agreement with the NHSC. I’ve devoted my fifteen years as a psychiatrist to the under-served, and even beyond that, to those patients who are refused care in community settings like Mental Health Centers because of their apparently refractory symptoms. Please e-mail me at the above address with any information regarding openings in your residency programs or residency programs like yours.

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