PLATTSBURGH — Area doctors are promoting a plan to financially support local medical students in an effort to attract them back to the North Country as physicians.
The Northern New York Medical Foundation, which includes many of the practicing physicians from across the region, has developed a program that will give scholarships of at least $10,000 to candidates from Clinton, Essex, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.
“Over the years, we have found it extremely difficult to attract younger people into the North Country,” said Dr. Sohom Patel, president of the Northern New York Medical Foundation. “It’s been an ongoing struggle.”
New York state has awarded more than $2 million in grant money through the Doctors Across New York program to promote recruitment in underserved regions of the state. But the local effort is focusing specifically on recruitment in the state’s northeastern corner.
“We’ve created a medical foundation to attract medical students — and particularly young people from the four northern counties — by giving them scholarships if, in return, they agree to serve the North Country,” Patel said.
The foundation is primarily interested in supporting medical students who are attending the four SUNY medical colleges in New York and those who plan on entering the medical field as primary-care physicians, he noted.
“We realize that a first-year med student has yet to decide if he or she wants to be a primary-care physician,” he added. “Third-year med students are almost sure about what they want to specialize in, so we prefer to give scholarships to third- or fourth-year med students.”
Foundation members felt it was important to emphasize the four SUNY colleges — Buffalo, Upstate (in Syracuse), Downstate (in Brooklyn) and Stony Brook — since they offer less-expensive tuition that could more easily be met by the scholarship program.
Patel has contacted the 10 hospitals in the four-county region to establish a network between them and the foundation.
“We need to work in close cooperation with every hospital,” he said. “We share a common cause and need to be familiar with the needs of each community.”
He has also been in touch with the four SUNY colleges to help spread the word to students who have already begun their medical studies.
From those working relationships, the foundation will develop a pool of potential candidates who will be considered for tuition assistance.
Candidates selected for the program must commit to a specific area in the region for a four-year period.
The foundation, which has been granted 501C status as a charitable organization, has been successful in its initial fundraising efforts and has accepted a third-year med student into the program.
The candidate has agreed to finish residency work in family medicine and to begin working at Elizabethtown Community Hospital to fill a need the foundation has identified in that community.
“If a young doctor develops a relationship with a hospital, it’s more likely that the doctor will remain in that community,” said Patel, who came to the North Country to open his practice in 1975. “If we can facilitate that kind of relationship, it’s a win-win situation for all.”
The foundation continues working with three potential candidates from St. Lawrence County and hopes to continue expanding its pool of potential North Country doctors as the organization raises more funds.
“If we can all work together, we can continue to have an organization that helps medical students defray the cost of their education,” Patel said. “We’re very confident that we have candidates that will become our future medical doctors.”
As the organization grows, Patel would like to see efforts expand to help physicians thinking of careers in OB/GYN, pediatrics and orthopedics, as well.
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HOW TO DONATE
Anyone interested in supporting the Northern New York Medical Foundation should send contributions to the foundation at 210 Cornelia St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh, NY, 12901.