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Release: Aug. 24, 2001

'Last dance' for UI Family Practice Fair is Aug. 25 in Des Moines

For the past quarter-century collaborative efforts between the University of Iowa College of Medicine, regional hospitals and practicing physicians have focused on training family doctors for Iowa communities. These efforts have been successful by any standard. The state has more than 1,200 family doctors, which is more than a quarter of all physicians in Iowa. Of these family practitioners, 1,000 have completed three-year residency programs to specialize in family practice.

In fact, Iowa has done so well at training family physicians and placing them in Iowa communities that this year's 25th Family Practice Opportunities Fair -- an event that brings together family physicians and physician assistants in training with representatives from medical practices around the state -- will be the last.

The fair, hosted by the UI College of Medicine and the Iowa Family Practice Residents Council, will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Polk County Convention Center in Des Moines.

"One community physician who will represent his medical group at the fair this weekend referred to it as the 'last dance,' said Roger Tracy, UI College of Medicine assistant dean and director of the college's Office of Statewide Clinical Education Programs.

The first fair was held in 1977 when practicing physicians and community leaders met in Des Moines with family physicians training in the UI Family Practice Residency Network. The network has eight residency programs in seven major Iowa communities. Dozens of Iowa towns and medical groups exhibited their practice opportunities. Twenty-four fairs later, the event has served its original purpose of connecting newly minted family physicians with Iowa practice opportunities.

This does not mean that there isn't a need for more family doctors in Iowa, Tracy said.

"There will always be a need to replace family physicians who retire or relocate to other states. But today the demand for family physicians is far less severe than it was in the 1970s and 80s," he said. "Training family physicians for Iowa has been a top priority in our state for more than 25 years and that emphasis will not wane with the conclusion of this year's fair. The eight training programs in our statewide network will continue to train family physicians to meet Iowa’s future needs."

The past success has resulted in Iowa having fewer practice opportunities for family doctors but that is only part of the reason for the decision to stop the practice opportunities fair, Tracy noted. Most of Iowa's primary care practitioners are now associated with regional networks that have their own full-time physician recruitment staff. Family doctors in Iowa who not affiliated with physician networks often are employed instead by their community's local hospital. In short, it has become easier in recent years for communities to attract young physicians into practice. Thus, the need for the Opportunities Fair just isn't as great as it was in the past, Tracy said.

Evidence of the success of the statewide training program is reflected in the rate at which small towns are attracting young family doctors. Over the past five years, 466 family physicians have entered Iowa practices. Nearly one-third (143) of the total entered towns with populations under 5,000. Towns with populations under 15,000 attracted 58 percent of the new doctors, partly because there are fewer and fewer opportunities in metropolitan communities.

In the year ending last December, Iowa attracted 102 new family doctors while losing 70, mostly to retirement and relocation. Statistically, the 70 were replaced along with a net gain of 32. Nearly half of the net gain occurred in Iowa towns with populations under 5,000 — quite a change from a recently as 10 years ago, Tracy said.

"Some of the small towns that hadn't succeeded in attracting physicians during the past 10 or 15 years now have success stories to tell," he said. "Emmetsburg has added one or more family physicians for three straight years. Cresco has succeeded for two straight years. Kingsley replaced both of its family doctors on the same day last year, and Osage and Sheldon had consecutive years of successful recruitment in the recent past."

The UI College of Medicine has completed its 25th annual survey establishing the exact number of practice opportunities for various medical specialties, physician assistants and family nurse practitioners. While the numbers change periodically, Tracy indicated that as of this month Iowa is offering 83 family practice opportunities in 64 communities. "Compare that to 334 jobs in 1988 in 163 towns, and you can see we have come a long way," he said.

The fair truly made a difference over its 25-year life span, Tracy said. Al Kollasch, M.D., participated in the first fair in 1977. Then a senior family practice resident training at the UI, Kollasch met Belmond representatives during the fair, and Kollasch has been practicing in Belmond

ever since. There are also accounts of communities that have had multiple successes at the fair. For example, Atlantic physicians and hospital representatives used the fair to establish relationships that led to several physicians choosing Atlantic for their practice, Tracy said.

The UI Department of Family Medicine and the affiliated residency programs will continue training tomorrow's family doctors. "We just won't need 'the dance' to make their efforts pay off for Iowa," said Tracy, who has helped organize the Opportunities Fair since its inception. "Every year the fair has been a challenge for our hard working staff, but it's been rewarding."

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