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Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine

Elevating Patient Care and Enhancing Belonging in Medical Education

Utah often shines in national rankings. But when it comes to the number of primary care physicians per 100,000 residents, we have some work to do. The Beehive State currently ranks 48th out of 50, meaning that many communities do not have access to the care they need to stay healthy. As the state’s population grows rapidly, that problem could grow significantly.

Thanks to a generous $110 million donation from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Treadwell Foundation, the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah is building programs focused on filling that primary care physician shortage. Some programs expose students to careers in primary care. Others provide pathways for youth to pursue medicine. All programs are a win-win for students and the community. 

For example, our Student-Led Clinic Initiative connects students with six local clinics, where students see and care for patients as if they were doctors. Students are supervised by licensed physicians at all times. This initiative gives students time to know their patients and provide them with close, personal care. “The quality of care the students are providing meets and actually exceeds what patients can get at other clinics,” says Deepika Reddy, MD, associate professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes.

To reach communities outside of urban areas in Salt Lake Valley, the school also created the Tribal, Rural, and Urban Underserved Medical Education Program (TRUE). TRUE aims to prepare and encourage students to work in under-resourced areas of the state. The Rural Immersion Course brings students to Utah Navajo Health System’s Montezuma Creek Community Health Center near Bluff, Utah, where they shadow doctors and health workers as they care for Native  Americans, who have long suffered from lower life expectancy and disproportionate burden of disease due to centuries of neglect and discrimination.

Our Physician Assistant program also visited Fort Duchesne last year to help the Ute Indian Tribe Head Start Program ensure that all children receive a yearly physical. Sherrilla McKinley, director of Head Start for the Ute Tribe, said it was “remarkable that so many people came out to us to help. We are grateful.”

While enhancing primary care training and access, the school’s faculty continues to provide world-class specialty and subspecialty care. That means patients, students, and trainees can access some of the world’s most highly trained specialists in areas such as burn, neurosurgery, rehabilitation, and cancer.

The school’s Office of Academic  connected with thousands of K-12 students to nurture a love of and curiosity for medicine. In May 2021, 6th graders from Whittier Elementary participated in Imagine U Day. The students toured the simulation center, practiced proper CPR techniques, learned to check vitals, watched a real-time ultrasound, and talked with anesthesiologists.

Kids at Doctor

Every year, the Medical Admissions Preparatory Program hosts 12 Utah students in an eight-week course. They workshop personal statements, take practice MCATs, and gain interview skills to help in the future.

In October 2022, the school hosted the Día de los Muertos PreMed Conference. Students learned about the admission process and talked with school leaders.

We also celebrated Juneteenth for the first time in 2022 by hosting the Juneteenth Summit and Health Fair with others at the U of U. Betty Sawyer, president of the Ogden NAACP, spoke at the summit.

These experiences provide current and prospective students with an awareness of the challenges and joys of practicing medicine, all while working hard to recruit students from different communities to pursue careers in primary care.