Sixty million Americans lack access to primary care, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers. Starting today, Primary Care Progress, an interprofessional health sciences student organization, is launching a grassroots campaign called the Primary Care Project to revitalize primary care education and change this statistic.
With the launch of the Primary Care Project, Quinnipiac joins 39 other Primary Care Progress chapters in their latest initiative to raise awareness and highlight the issues with primary care in the country.
Richard Bottner, a second-year graduate student in the physician’s assistant program at Quinnipiac, is on the National Leadership Council for Primary Care Progress and says his organization has “a ways to go” in educating his generation about primary care.
As a “primary” step in this campaign, Bottner and the other Primary Care Progress members are asking students and faculty on campus to sign a pledge in support of primary care.
“You are pledging that you are going to support primary care, you are going to encourage your patients, when you graduate, to have a primary care provider,” Bottner said. “You’re going to take a few minutes to really read about primary care and our health care system and what [it] can do in terms of treating patients and disease prevention and economics.”
Part of the problem, Bottner says, is a lack of education about the importance of primary care. Though many Americans see primary care physicians, they do not realize that not everyone has access to this type of care.
“We’ve grown up in an environment where we don’t really understand or value primary care,” Bottner said.
One in five sick people visit the emergency room for diagnosis or treatment they could have received from a primary care practitioner, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.
Despite an increasing demand for primary care physicians, there aren’t enough students choosing to pursue this path, Bottner said.
This shortage of primary care physicians means those in need do not all have access to proper care. As many as 45,000 people die each year because they lack health insurance and cannot reach a doctor in time, per the American Journal of Public Health.
Bottner believes the Primary Care Project educates students and faculty about the importance of considering primary care over other specialty fields. To change the appeal of primary care, Bottner plans to dispel the “bad reputation” associated with primary care.
“Quinnipiac is actually kind of cool because we’re not in this position, but at many institutions, the faculty doesn’t support primary care,” he said. “Students are told that, ‘You’re too smart for primary care. You’d be better off going into surgery or something else.’”
For sophomore biology major Morgan Maynard, pursuing a career in primary care is a no-brainer. She plans to become a pediatrician and open her own practice, but before she does, she will be first in line to sign the Primary Care Project pledge.
“I didn’t know [lack of primary care physicians] was such a problem before hearing about the pledge,” Maynard said. “It’s really surprising.”
“People should go to school for what they like, because if they don’t like it then they’re not going to be good at it. But I think they should know more about primary care because not a lot of people know a lot about this issue.”
She thinks the interprofessional nature of Primary Care Progress will help.
“It’s great that different disciplines are represented in the organization,” Maynard said. “It will make it easier for them to get their pledges and change the perceptions and dialogue about primary care.”
Since Primary Care Project launched nationally during National Primary Care Week in mid-October, nearly 1,350 people have signed the pledge. The goal is to get 5,000 signatures by the end of the year within Primary Care Progress’ 40 chapters.
Quinnipiac started the week with 10 signatures, but Bottner has high hopes for the university’s numbers once the project is officially launched.
“I want Quinnipiac to be the number-one school that’s doing it,” Bottner said.
Events are planned throughout the week to draw attention to the pledge and get more signatures, even though it will be an ongoing effort.
People can sign the pledge online or they can sign paper copies of the pledge by finding Primary Care Progress members on the Mount Carmel and North Haven campuses during the afternoon. The organization’s student leadership team is encouraging faculty from all health science disciplines to head class discussions about primary care.
Primary Care Progress is making attempts to deliver this message and get signatures through multiple channels, including social media under the hashtag #pcareproject.
Bottner has also planned two movie screenings to see the documentary “The Waiting Room,” about underinsured and uninsured Americans who go to the emergency room for primary care. Both screenings are on Tuesday, Nov. 19, and one is at 2:30 p.m. on Mount Carmel campus while the other is at 6:30 p.m. on North Haven campus.
“We’re creating leadership opportunities for students, creating education opportunities for students, advocacy opportunities, and really just raising awareness about what primary care is and what primary care isn’t,” Bottner said. “It would be great if all of these students decide that they wanted to go work in primary care.”