Background: The urban family practice residencies of Memphis were not providing sufficient training or encouragement to young physicians for practice in rural communities.
Methods: In 1990, the Department of Family Medicine, in partnership with the State of Tennessee Health Access Act and the Baptist Health Care System, developed a teaching practice in a rural county of western Tennessee. The family practice curriculum included special skills in advanced women's health care and emergency medicine so that uniformly trained physicians could provide around-the-clock coverage in the hospital, including the delivery of babies and first-hour emergency care.
Results: After 7 years, the group now includes six full-time board-certified, OB-capable family physicians. In addition, faculty members from the department's urban program in Memphis are required to contribute a "mini locum tenens" of 2-3 days of rural coverage per month. Since 1992, the practice has provided care for more than 54,000 continuity office visits, 81,000 emergency department visits, more than 3,500 hospital admissions, and 621 obstetrical deliveries. Since 1994, residents have been assigned to the site full time, with growth to 12 (4-4-4) residents assigned to this location as of 1997. Several graduates from the initial group of residents have remained in the community after graduation, and three others have established practices in rural areas. Most recently, control of the practice is being transferred from the family medicine department to the university's corporate group practice. This may result in fundamental changes in the practice's operation.
Conclusions: The approach described in this report may be useful for the expansion of urban departments of family medicine into rural and underserved communities.