On the Right Track: First FMAT Students Graduate

On the Right Track: First FMAT Students Graduate

A group of eight students from an innovative program are doing their part to help alleviate the primary care physician shortage.

Written by Suzanna Cisneros

The inaugural eight-member FMAT class began their coursework in 2010, completing their medical degrees in three years instead of the standard four.

The inaugural eight-member FMAT class began their coursework in 2010, completing their medical degrees in three years instead of the standard four.

The United States is facing a primary care physician shortage. Family medicine physicians receive less pay than those in specialized medicine, yet still build the high debt that four years of medical school brings. The first class of medical students from an innovative program recently graduated from a program that hopes to change how medical schools will train and educate future primary care physicians.

In an effort to address the shortage, the School of Medicine created the three-year medical degree approved by the nationally recognized accrediting authority for medical education. The Family Medicine Accelerated Track (FMAT) program allows primary care students at the School of Medicine to complete their degree in three years at about half of the cost of the standard four-year program.

Changing Medical Education

Steven Berk, M.D., executive vice president, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, said with the baby boomer generation growing older and the increased demand for primary care with the new federal health care law, this program will address the need for more family medicine doctors.

“This is a program of national importance as we work to ensure that all Americans will have access to a primary care physician,” Berk said. “We committed to taking the first steps in changing how medical schools attract and educate future family medicine doctors. This program demonstrates that our School of Medicine is contributing to health care education nationally as well as locally.”

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), since 1997, U.S. medical school graduate matches in family medicine and general internal medicine programs have fallen by nearly 50 percent. A 2006 AAFP Workforce Study estimated that the U.S. would need approximately 39,000 more family physicians by 2020.

Ronald L. Cook, D.O., chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, said this program enables outstanding family medicine students to reduce the length of medical school by 25 percent and cut their debt in half.

“The high cost of medical school and resulting debt are major challenges for many prospective medical students,” Cook said. “Our program addresses debt on two levels, first by shortening the program from four to three years, and second, by providing scholarships to all qualifying students. With programs such as this, we can double the number of primary care physicians available to care for the U.S. population.”

Getting Attention

The first FMAT class included eight students who entered the School of Medicine in fall 2010. FMAT has received national coverage from the Associated Press, New York Times, USA Today, NBC Nightly News and others. Berk said medical schools and media from across the country have watched the program to see how it will work.

The School of Medicine FMAT program was approved by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the nationally recognized accrediting authority for medical education programs leading to the medical degree in U.S. and Canadian medical schools. The Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association sponsor the LCME.


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Department of Family and Community Medicine

The Department of Family and Community Medicine provides high-quality health care and educational experiences. Working as a team of health care providers and educators, we advance a unique model of patient care characterized by:

  • Comprehensive and integrated care of the whole person over time, tailored to the individual’s values and choices
  • Care of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, health statuses and both genders
  • Wellness and prevention
  • Relationships and collaborations based on active and open communication and trust
  • Wise and practical application of knowledge
School of Medicine
School of Medicine

Since 1969, the School of Medicine has graduated more than 3,000 physicians. The school aims to provide quality lab space, recruit creative, innovative research faculty, and develop graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for lifelong careers in medical research.

Today, more than 20 percent of the practicing physicians in West Texas have graduated from the School of Medicine or its residency programs.