A 2016 study by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) confirmed what we have known for some time: America needs more primary care providers to keep pace with the health care demands of a growing and aging population. The problem is especially acute here in Alabama—in 2012, the state had 3,512 active primary care physicians for a rate of approximately 73 per 100,000 people, ranking it 45th in the nation according to the AAMC. The provider shortage is even worse in rural areas (55 of Alabama’s 67 counties are considered rural), eight Alabama counties have no hospital at all, and 62 of our counties have Health Professions Shortage areas. The shortage is predicted to become more pronounced as our population ages and scores of older physicians retire.

The School of Medicine has made increasing the number of students who pursue a career in primary care a key component of our mission to serve the state. To that end, we are excited to announce the launch of a new Primary Care Track, exclusive to the Tuscaloosa Regional Campus.

The Primary Care Track is a four-year M.D. program that builds on the success of the Tuscaloosa Longitudinal Community Curriculum (TLC2), which began as a pilot program for third- and fourth-year medical students at our Tuscaloosa campus in 2014. Starting this year, students applying to the School of Medicine through AMCAS will have the option to choose the Primary Care Track within the secondary application.

The new Primary Care Track offers:

• A longitudinal integrated clerkship (LIC) curriculum based at our Tuscaloosa Regional Campus
• Low faculty-student ratios (often 1:1) and excellent clinical training at the Tuscaloosa clinical campus and in community settings
• Preparation for careers in primary care fields
• Personal and professional development with a highly visible and accessible student support team

The longitudinal integrated clerkship allows students to learn clinical medicine, population health, and the business of medicine in an environment reflective of where most medicine is practiced. During the LIC, students work alongside faculty to follow and care for a group of patients over approximately six months, through various disciplines and in all settings, including outpatient clinics, inpatient units, nursing homes, and patients’ homes. In a traditional four-to-eight-week clerkship model, students typically experience single or just a few encounters with a patient. Students in the LIC get to see how patients respond to treatment and how health and disease evolve over time and in a patient's social context. Following the same group of patients over a span of months also enables students to build meaningful relationships with both patients and preceptors.

In the last decade, more medical schools have adopted the LIC model, including Brown University, Harvard University, University of California San Francisco, Texas A&M University, and Duke University. Experience has shown that students who complete a LIC are competitive residency candidates—they graduate with self-directed learning skills, have a strong grasp of patient management and the consultation and referral system, and can effectively utilize community resources.

The first group of Primary Care Track students will apply to the program this summer. I hope you will join me in wishing them all the best as they begin the life-changing journey of personal and professional discovery that is medical school.

Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS
Senior Vice President for Medicine and Dean
James C. Lee Endowed Chair

April 2017