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Osteopathic Physicians to Congress: Expand Teaching Health Center Program to Solve Physician Shortage

More than 1,000 DOs and medical students lobby lawmakers to advocate for continuing federal funding of teaching health centers, which train primary care physicians in clinical settings.

By AOA Media Team


1,000 DOs and medical students lobby lawmakers for primary care training in rural and underserved communities

WASHINGTON—April 5, 2017— More than 1,000 of the nation’s 129,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and medical students marched to Capitol Hill this morning to advocate for continuing federal funding of teaching health centers, which train primary care physicians in clinical settings.

In 2015-2016, teaching health centers produced more than 700 new doctors and could nearly close the physician shortage by 2020 if lawmakers continue funding for these residencies, according to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

Strategic investments in teaching health centers can address both the primary care shortage and the rural health care crisis, says Boyd R. Buser, DO, AOA president.

“The majority of new physicians remain in the area where they complete their residency training, which means we have the opportunity to bring doctors to communities where they are most needed,” Dr. Buser said. “This type of policy solution not only addresses the primary care shortage, it also helps ensure that rural Americans have access to care in their area.”

Right now, about 50 million Americans have difficulty accessing timely medical care because they live in rural, urban or suburban areas that don’t have enough primary care physicians, according to a policy research brief by The Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy and The RCHN Community Health Foundation.

The ROI of Teaching Health Centers

The current 742 residents spread across 59 teaching health centers in 27 states and the District of Columbia are expected to provide more than one million primary care medical visits in 2017 to underserved communities. Support for teaching health center residencies made up less than 0.5 percent of the annual federal outlay committed for training physicians in FY2016.

Each resident in a community-based training program generates $200,000 in annual economic benefit to the community and $1.9 million every year they practice in the area afterward, according to Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Tripp Umbach. In addition, every physician who practices in a medically underserved community results in $3.6 million in annual savings for the health care system.

“Those savings happen because people without doctors put off care and lack continuity of care,” said Paul Umbach, Tripp Umbach president. “Just being able to see a doctor in the community provides an economic lift, because having regular checkups means early diagnosis and treatment, and in turn, dealing with fewer serious illnesses.”

The Mission-Driven Physician

Teaching health center residents tend to spend their careers as practicing primary care physicians. Studies comparing teaching health center-trained physicians with traditional GME-trained physicians found those from teaching health centers are far more likely to address our greatest needs.

THC-Trained Physicians Traditional GME Physicians
​Practice in Primary Care 82 percent 23 percent
Practice in Underserved Communities 55 percent 26 percent
Practice in Rural Areas 20 percent 8 percent
Practice in Community Health Centers 40 percent ​2 percent


American Association of Teaching Health Centers

Demand for innovative training opportunities in primary care is high. By their third year of operation, the first cohort of teaching health centers received nearly 11,000 applications from medical school students for just 93 residency slots in the 2014-2015 academic year. This represented a 30 percent increase of applications in just three years.

Keith Egan, DO, is a family medicine resident at Unity Health Care in Washington, a network of more than 20 federally qualified health centers serving families and individuals in the District of Columbia.

“This type of training teaches you how to take care of people who may have extremely complicated lives and face challenges that you don’t find in a medical text book,” Dr. Egan says. “Osteopathic medicine is a whole-person approach to patient care, which is why so many DOs choose careers in primary care and want to get their training in a community they hope to serve.”

About the American Osteopathic Association

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) represents more than 129,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students; promotes public health; encourages scientific research; serves as the primary certifying body for DOs; and is the accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools. Visit to learn more about osteopathic medicine.

Media Contact:  

Jeff Brennan
(312) 202-8161

Editor's Note  

Photos of DOs marching on Capitol Hill are available by request ​