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Health Center Tackles Drastic Shortage of Pediatricians

Idaho has long been a pediatric desert, but a community health center engineered an oasis that is bringing more care to the state’s children.

Just a few months ago, Full Circle Health launched Idaho’s first pediatric residency program, which will give medical school graduates three years of immersion in pediatric practice.

There will be plenty of demand for their services. Idaho ranks last among the 50 states for pediatricians per capita, and the situation worsened in recent years as population growth surged.

Indeed, parents in some rural parts of the state must make a three-hour trip to take a child to the nearest pediatrician, said Dr. Perry Brown, the program director for the pediatrics residency. He added that parents face challenges in Boise as well, where few pediatricians are accepting new patients.

Brown moved to Idaho in 1998, and said many newcomers settle in for the long run because of the state’s natural beauty: “mountains, rivers, skiing, hiking.”

As for getting experienced professionals to stay in Idaho, Full Circle has already had positive results with an existing family medicine residency. Most of its graduates choose to remain in the state, with a quarter of them working in rural areas.

Four people have joined the new pediatric residency, which will last three years. The health center plans to bring on four new residents each year. They will have rotations in Full Circle’s new pediatric clinic and a variety of other sites, including some in rural areas, and will also gain experience at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise. Although St. Luke’s is not a teaching hospital, staff there have welcomed the opportunity to support the residency program, Brown said. This was one of many pieces that came together over the four years it took to organize the program. The long preparation period is now paying off.