ETSU Health aids rural communities with primary care

Published 11:00 am Thursday, January 25, 2024

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Within a decade, the nation will face looming physician shortages that the Association of American Medical Colleges projects may be worst for rural areas among primary care providers.
In response, ETSU Health’s academic approach to medicine is preparing the next generation of physicians with a passion for serving in rural practices in our area and similar regions.
ETSU Health’s Family Medicine clinics are sending residents to rural clinics throughout the area to serve alongside precepting physicians, giving them the opportunity to gain new experiences outside of those they may receive as part of their residency program or within ETSU Health’s primary care clinics.
“Students and residents are more likely to work in rural and underserved areas if they’ve worked and had experiences in those areas,” explained Dr. Ginger Bastian, project manager with East Tennessee State University’s Department of Family Medicine. “This program is trying to bring more residents into these areas to try to entice them to do that with their future practice.”
Most recently, Family Medicine residents began serving alongside Dr. Jason Colinger, owner and full-time family medicine physician at Unicoi Medical Associates. UMA is a rural practice that has served the Erwin community since at least 1938.
Dr. Colinger, who completed his family medicine residency at ETSU Health Family Medicine Bristol, serves as an attending physician not only to give back to the institution that helped guide his training, but also to better his community.
“Erwin is a small town. It has a lot of good things going for it, but health care is not one of them. It’s still underserved,” Dr. Colinger said. “I’m hoping that these residents can bring some updated training and new ideas on how to do things. They are right in the mix of learning the latest best practices. I’m also hoping that it helps drive more providers to our community.”
In turn, residents benefit in a variety of ways, including the opportunity to serve a Spanish-speaking migrant population and learning about practice management and the business side of medicine.
Dr. Caleb Knisley, a resident at ETSU Health Family Medicine Bristol, is one of the first residents to practice at UMA.
“At UMA, I get a taste of what life outside of residency will be like,” Dr. Knisley said. “I get a lot of autonomy and really get a chance to step outside of my comfort zone. Having that experience early on will make me a better, more confident physician in the long run.”

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