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Foundation awards grant to Med School

The Rhode Island Foundation recently awarded a grant of $87,631 to the Alpert Medical School to promote primary health care careers in Rhode Island.

The nation currently faces a severe shortage of primary care physicians. According to Neil Steinberg '75, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, 66,000 Rhode Islanders are currently without stable primary health care.  

Stable mentoring is one of the best ways to encourage students to become primary care physicians, said Philip Gruppuso, associate dean for medical education, who is responsible for orchestrating the medical education portion of the grant.

Though about 50 percent — close to the national average — of the University's Med School students choose a residency defined as primary care, many of them will go on to specialize within their fields, Gruppuso said. The reasons are often fiscal — on average, primary care physicians are paid significantly less than their specialist colleagues.  

The Med School has enough primary care mentors to fill current needs, but the mentors are often "slammed by work," Gruppuso said. The University already has partnerships with around 75 community practices whose doctors volunteer to mentor Med School students. The grant will provide the Med School with a way to compensate community doctors, as well as allow it to show appreciation for the mentors' time.

For the moment, community doctors will be paid "a modest amount" for their mentoring efforts, Gruppuso said. In coming years, the Med School hopes to dramatically increase the sum through its own funding.

In 2010, the Rhode Island Foundation upgraded both primary care and public educational reform to the level of a signature initiative. For the next five years, the foundation will work to devote increased resources and attention to these movements.

The Med School and the foundation have already taken a number of steps to promote the primary career path. First- and second-years are enrolled in a course called "Doctoring," which exposes students to the world of primary care from their first semester of school onwards, Gruppuso said.

In 2009, the foundation teamed with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Medical Society to create the RI Primary Care Loan Forgiveness Program. This initiative encourages medical residents to continue their practice in Rhode Island, awarding up to $20,000 of loan forgiveness annually for four years. Steinberg said he feels the two programs will complement each other "quite nicely."

Both Steinberg and Gruppuso said the initial response from the primary care community has been extremely positive, but it is still too early to draw any definitive conclusions about the success of the program.

In the future, the foundation will work closely with the Med School as it gains stable footing in the primary care arena, Steinberg said. "We're an early supporter," he added. "We get programs and projects off the ground."

The foundation has supported other University efforts in recent years. During the first few years of the Campaign for Academic Enrichment, the foundation granted various awards to the school totaling approximately $3.8 million, Steinberg said. About $600,000 of that money was directed toward the Med School.

"The Rhode Island Foundation is a community foundation, designed to meet the needs of the people," Steinberg added. The group does not award money to the University as a whole, but rather more specifically to "programs where we can draw on the expertise of Brown."

The foundation has also previously awarded grants to the Education Alliance, the Swearer Center for Public Service and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, among others.

"There's a good partnership," he said. "This was an opportunity for mutual benefit for the foundation and for the University." 



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