New GME Program Creates Rural Training Opportunity
By Sean Price

Rural medicine recently got a boost when Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (SHSU-COM) in Conroe launched its first-ever residency program, one designed specifically to train physicians for careers in rural areas.

This is a big moment for SHSU-COM, which opened its doors in 2021 and will graduate its first class of 69 in 2024. SHSU is collaborating with Huntsville Memorial Hospital’s Rural Health Care Clinic, a federally designated rural health center, to create a program that dovetails with the school’s mission to improve rural health care – especially in underserved East Texas, says Thomas Mohr, DO, SHSU-COM dean.

“Our goal is to afford the people of Huntsville the same kind of quality medical care you would get in a major metropolitan area,” he said. 

The program will eventually train 12 physicians each year, Dr. Mohr says. While SHSU-COM is an osteopathic institution, both osteopathic and allopathic medical students are welcome. The program’s goal is to find people with a rural background who want make a career of rural medicine. 

“Our hope at the end of the day is to bring Texans from these [rural] areas back for training and practice,” he said.

The Huntsville residency is SHSU-COM’s first step in meeting the requirements of Senate Bill 1066. The 2017 state law requires public medical schools to develop a plan to ensure a sufficient number of residency slots in Texas to reasonably accommodate the schools’ expected number of medical graduates. Texas’ goal – set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board – is to have 1.1 entry level residency slots for every medical graduate. 

Texas will need to add 249 entry-level GME positions to maintain the target 1.1-1 ratio by 2027, according to TMA data. Research shows that residents tend to set up practice close to their training program, so Texas could lose out on recruiting badly needed new physicians if the target is not met.  

SHSU-COM has several additional new rural residency programs in the works, Dr. Mohr says.

“We’re looking at smaller rural-based and community-based primary care residency programs, specifically in East Texas but anywhere in Texas, if there’s an opportunity to do that,” he said.

However, setting up residency programs usually takes two years and often longer because of difficulties with funding, federal regulations, accreditation, and finding local partners. 

“With 14 other medical schools in the state, we know in order to keep the 1.1-1 ratio of [residency positions per graduate] that the legislature wants and has been championed by the Texas Medical Association, it’s really incumbent upon us to start new residency programs,” Dr. Mohr said.

Last Updated On

March 13, 2023

Originally Published On

February 27, 2023