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Jefferson's Physician Shortage Area Program Brings Family Physicians to Underserved Rural Areas

From an article in the Jefferson Medical College Alumni Bulletin, December 1999

James Devlin, MD
James Devlin, MD

Rural family practice truly means care for the family as a whole. Physicians treat each generation, providing general medical attention plus such specialty services as delivering babies and minor outpatient surgery.

"With more rural residents in Pennsylvania than in any other state in the nation, the medical needs of this population are great, and Jefferson's PSAP is meeting these needs to a large extent," says Dr. Howard Rabinowitz, Director of the PSAP.

For James Devlin (Jefferson Class of 1985), medical training began as a child when he accompanied his father, a family physician, on house calls in Brockway, a small rural community in western Pennsylvania. A graduate of the Physician Shortage Area Program (PSAP) at Jefferson, Devlin today practices family medicine in the same town, bringing his two children with him on house calls, much the way his father did a generation ago.

"Growing up in Brockway, I watched my father get to know his patients as people, by really sharing in their lives," says Dr. Devlin. "I knew that I wanted to return to this atmosphere and practice medicine in much the same way. The PSAP gave me the training I needed to care for people."

Through the PSAP, Dr. Devlin was able to take his clinical rotations during his junior and senior years of medical school in rural parts of Pennsylvania. This exposed him to both inpatient and outpatient settings, giving him hands-on understanding of how to work in a relatively isolated area.

"It means providing a wide range of care for the entire family," Devlin explains. In Brockway, he practices primary care in the sense most city dwellers know it, but also delivers babies and assists with various surgeries such as gallbladder removal, hysterectomy, and caesarean sections. Dr. Devlin treats grandparents for the general health problems of old age, while delivering their great-grandchildren. "There is a limited number of subspecialists here, broadening the scope of what I am called upon to provide."

"The PSAP's goal was to return me to the place I had loved since childhood. I am able to care for patients who are also my friends. This is family medicine in its purest form. Interestingly, it's also very modern - in the past decade there's been more and more emphasis nationwide on primary care."

A 1993 graduate of Jefferson's Physician Shortage Area Program, Thane Turner of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania has experienced the program's benefits both as a student and as a teacher.

Enjoying the history and people of Lock Haven, Dr. Turner knew that he wanted to return there to practice medicine, caring for the friends and family he had known for a lifetime. "Practicing in the country allows me to learn not only my patients' medical histories, but also their family histories and life experiences," he says.

"The PSAP allowed me to complete training during my clinical years of medical school in rural areas, and also to conduct some interesting academic research," he says. "I was able to build relationships with my mentors on the Jefferson faculty, who showed me the scope of what you can do in family medicine."

Turner put his training to work in a group medical practice in Lock Haven, where he lives with his wife and three children. He provides comprehensive care-everything from treating patients for the flu to delivering babies, performing minor surgeries (such as suturing or mole removal), and casting minor fractures.

Thane Turner, MD
Thane Turner, MD

Like all PSAP participants, Dr. Turner studied under a physician preceptor for six weeks in a rural part of Pennsylvania in his fourth year of medical school. He found the experience so beneficial that he has since served as a preceptor for current Jefferson students.

"Being a preceptor has allowed me to experience the benefits of the PSAP from the other side," Turner says. "I was able to keep my teaching skills sharp, and to bond with my student in much the same way as I had with my advisor. The PSAP allows both students and teachers to learn the dramatic differences between the practice of medicine in Center City Philadelphia and rural Pennsylvania.

Contact Info

Department of
Family & Community Medicine

1015 Walnut Street
Suite 401
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Howard K. Rabinowitz, MD
Director, PSAP
(215) 955-7416

Fred W. Markham, MD
Associate Director, PSAP
(215) 955-2350

Katherine Paul, MPH
Education Coordinator
(215) 955-2362

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