MARQUETTE - The Upper Peninsula is confronting unprecedented challenges in meeting the health care needs of older adults as the geriatric population continues to grow faster than the national average.
Nationally, physicians and psychiatrists who specialize in geriatric medicine are already in short supply, and new research warns that's unlikely to change.
The Marquette General Health Systems Marquette Family Medicine Residency Program has been the main supplier of primary care physicians managing the area's geriatric health care.
Dr. Pawneet Singh and Dr. Fritz Hoenke examine patient Mary Basal at the Norlite Nursing Center in Marquette Tuesday. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
The skills needed to provide medical care to older individuals are sophisticated and require extensive training to master.
A new fellowship program, made possible by the Michigan State University Department of Family Medicine, is under way. It's specifically designed to boost the quality of geriatrics education for family medicine residents.
Dr. Fritz Hoenke serves as the medical director of physician practices and physician recruitment at Marquette General Health System, and has been tapped for the directorship of the fellowship program in Marquette.
"It is extremely rare for a community as small and isolated as ours to have not only a medical school campus, a family medicine residency, and now a post-doctoral, post-residency training program," Hoenke said. "We are dedicated to continuing to increase specialty capabilities to benefit the people of the U.P in the level of care locally available, and Superior Health Partners and its organizations are committed to the greatest access to high quality medicine, close to home."
Dr. Pawneet Singh, a third-year resident at the Marquette Family Medicine Residency Program, has been accepted as the first Fellow in the program. He will be graduating from the residency program in June, and will begin his geriatrics training in July.
Singh's fellowship training will take place from July 2011 through June 2012. Going forward, one fellow per year will be trained.
As part of the fellowship, Singh will train at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans, the Norlite Nursing Center, Brookridge Heights Assisted Living and at Marquette General Hospital, with rotations on the rehab unit, in geropsychiatry, geriatric inpatient medicine, and geroneurology.
He will also be responsible for a research project and participate in frequent training with other geriatric fellows affiliated with MSU. Fellows will link through their computers for these sessions.
The program launch was celebrated April 1 at Marquette General Hospital's grand rounds lunch conference, with dozens of area physicians and health professionals in attendance. Dr. Kevin Foley, director of academic and clinical operations in geriatrics in the Department of Family Medicine at MSU, was on hand to assist with the launch, along with Hoenke.
"Having a geriatrics fellowship intimately linked to the family medicine residency program will have tremendous benefit in increasing the quality of geriatrics education for family medicine residents in their three year training experience," said Dr. Bill Short, MFMR director and community assistant dean at MSU's U.P. campus.
"The geriatrics director, teaching staff, and fellow will naturally be influencing the geriatric knowledge development of family medicine residents in training,"?Short said. "Graduates of the residency who move on to jobs in the U.P. working as family doctors, will provide safer, better quality, and more cost effective care of elderly patients they serve."
Short sees far reaching benefits as he looks ahead to a time when multiple graduates will have emerged from the fellowship program.
"Fellow graduates will supervise care of our geriatric patients in nursing homes, senior citizen apartment communities and will staff geriatric assessment centers that emerge in communities throughout the Upper Peninsula," he said.
For more information on the Family Medicine Residency, the Geriatric Fellowship Program or the U.P. Campus of MSU's College of Human Medicine, visit www.mgh.org/uphec, or call Mary Tavernini at 906-228-7970.