Del Trecco: Rural America confronts a health care crisis

by Michael Del Trecco, President and CEO, VAHHS According to media reports, more than 40,000 graduating medical students found out where there will spend the next several years in medical residency and training on what is appropriately referred to as “Match Day” this past week. Included in the celebration is of course our highly rated and much-respected Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. Through the National Fellowship Matching Program (NFMP), students list the programs they are interested in joining and the programs choose students they are interested in having.

All agree that if any their choices match, they are contractually obligated to honor their choice. NFMP Match Day ceremonies hold much suspense for students and for the friends and family members who join them to learn where they will take the next steps in their education and their medical careers.

The aspiring and soon-to-be primary and specialty care physicians who matched on Friday enter practice at arguably the most challenging time in health care—especially rural health care—in modern history. Our providers and the nurses, staff and administrators who make up our non-profit hospital system in Vermont, are tackling challenges with grit, dedication and fierce determination to care for their patients, support their families and help our communities to thrive.

They are working on short-staffed crews; they are exposed to violence; they are caring for a higher volume of patients and patients who are coming in sicker. They are managing long hours and countless other challenges. They do this work because they care. They do this work because they want to make a difference. They need our support and help to succeed. And believe me, we need them to succeed.

A report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2021 projected a staggering physician shortage of between approximately 38,000 to 124,000 open-yet-needed positions in the next 12 years. Growing populations in various parts of the country and aging populations, like ours in Vermont, add to the challenge. The result is difficulty finding primary care providers and long wait times for certain specialty care. These are challenges we already face in Vermont.

Even with these significant headwinds, it’s impossible not to feel joy and hope when you see medical students being matched around the country, knowing many will be headed to Vermont to join fellow residents at UVM—learning, studying and researching and finally staying here to practice and to become part of our community. Their energy and fresh thinking will bolster those who have been in the trenches for years, even decades, and help to carry us forward.

Vermont Association of Hospitals & Health Systems