The opportunity of collaborative health

Founded almost 30 years ago, The Church Health Center (CHC) has partnered with a number of businesses and organizations over the years to advance its mission of “providing quality, affordable healthcare for working, uninsured people and their families.” Now the CHC is taking it one step further by aligning itself with Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation (BMHCC) to launch a program to “grow its own doctors.”

“The Church Health Center is a nonprofit organization has grown to become the largest faith-based healthcare organization of its type in the country,” said CHC Communications Director Marvin Stockwell. “Currently, we care for more than 58,000 patients of record without relying on government funding. Fees are charged on a sliding scale based on income.”
However, with that growth comes an increased demand for doctors who specialize in community health.
“In today’s world, few doctors choose family care for their practice,” said CHC founder and CEO Scott Morris, MD, M.Div. “For a very long time we’ve been trying to identify those who want to make a difference in the world by caring for families and communities. Also, we believe that medicine is about addressing wellness issues and the spiritual dimensions of life, not just about how much money you are going to make.”
“We’ve had a gap-year program, Church Health Scholars, for a long time, but it is a one-year deal,” explained Dr. Morris. “Program participants combine practical work experience with academic and faith-based opportunities to serve underserved populations in Memphis. Upon completion of that program, most of the participants have gone on to medical school. In fact, we’ve helped place over 700 scholars into medical school over the last 25 years. Now, we’re creating an entry way for doctors to get into family practice. We’re striving to increase the number of doctors in community health.”
The Family Medicine Residency Program has been a long-time dream of Dr. Morris. He is seeking to build a team of healthcare providers “who can become leaders in advanced primary care practices for our community and nation.”
Dr. Morris said, “Graduating family physicians will be prepared to practice the art of Family Medicine with joy and dedication, while mastering the science and technology of the evolving health care system, in order to bring about community transformation. They will train in medicine alongside, not only other healthcare providers, but also teachers and artists who engage people and a community in living the life well lived.” 
“Primary care is such big news in our community,” continued Dr. Morris. “The idea for this residency program has been perking along for two and a half to three years and is just now coming to fruition. Adding more family physicians to our medical community will allow us to see more patients and serve them better, while allowing the residents a chance to learn in a unique setting.”
“In my opinion, this is the best training for a family practice physician since the goal is to work in the community, as opposed to working in an academic setting,” added Dr. Morris.
Responses to questions like, “Are you convinced that the practice of medicine is more than applying technology and prescribing pills?”, “Do you want to help people discover the connection between faith and health?”, “How would you work with a teacher at an inner-city school to see that their students’ families adopt a healthy lifestyle?” and “Can you see yourself staying in Memphis?” were key when interviewing applicants for the program.
The BMHCC/CHC Family Medicine residency program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). The plan is to start small, with only four residents in the program as it launches this July. Then four more entry residents will be added each year, for a total of 12 residents in a three-year span.
“We had over 400 applicants for this inaugural year,” said Dr. Morris. “We’d like to grow to allow six entry residents per year.”
There will be an entire faculty that will be their teachers. Anne Sullivan, MD, FAAFP, will be the Program Director for the BMHCC/CHC Family Medicine Residency Program. She currently serves as the Chief Quality and Academic Officer for Baptist Memorial Medical Group, Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and as a physician volunteer with the Church Health Center once per month. Faculty member Joanne P. Watson, MD, is board certified in Family Medicine and a fellow in the American Academy of Family Medicine. Susan Nelson, MD, serves as the Medical Director for the Church Health Center.
“We are very excited to partner with the Church Health Center to create this unique and quality-driven residency program,” said Dr. Sullivan. “CHC has served Memphis faithfully since 1987 and has gained worldwide recognition for the fulfillment of their original mission as well as their ongoing drive to continually search out other opportunities for service to our community. Through our unique curriculum, the BMH/CHC Family Medicine residency program will provide young doctors who already have a connection to Memphis with the advanced training they need while instilling the commitment to service that caused both CHC and Baptist to be created.”
“The Church Health Center will deliver a family medicine residency that fully integrates resident education into the CHC Model for Healthy Living's seven areas of health care,” explained Dr. Nelson. “That approach encompasses aspects of medical, nutritional, spiritual, psychological, exercise, vocation and relationships education. We emphasize our responsibility to God and our community to assist the less fortunate among us; therefore, our training will also place an emphasis on serving the underserved.”
“We knew we had to grow our own doctors,” said Dr. Morris. “We are here to recruit doctors for Memphis, not just for three years, but those who see their careers as working within the Greater Memphis area. We feel we can best do that by working with young doctors who bring their own energy and enthusiasm, and helping raise them within the scope of the CHC. Everybody is going to be giving back to each other — we will learn from them and we will offer them a training that will make them really excellent family physicians.”
In their second year, the residents will split their time evenly between Baptist and the CHC and in their third year, they will be immersed in seeing CHC patients. Specifically, they will be working with families at Perea Preschool, taking a very holistic approach and focusing on wellness while serving as doctors for those children and their families.

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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