MOUNT VERNON — A Skagit Regional Health program designed to train new primary care doctors will end, due to changing education requirements that administrators say they can't meet.
Since 2012, Skagit Regional Health has accepted four to six medical school graduates a year into its three-year Family Medicine Residency program, which has been a reliable source of primary care doctors in the county.
Dr. Connie Davis, chief medical officer with Skagit Regional Health, said staff explored ways to save the program — including hiring a consultant to help come up with ideas — but couldn't find a way to bring the program up to new standards.
Davis said it was decided in August to sunset the program over the next three years, so all of those currently in the program have the chance to finish their residencies.
Skagit Regional Health's Internal Medicine Residency program will continue, as education requirements haven't changed, she said.
She said this family medicine residency program is the only one in Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Changes in requirements, Davis said, come from a merging of two medical education organizations — the American Osteopathic Association and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
Skagit Regional Health's residency program was accredited by the American Osteopathic Association, which Davis said has looser requirements.
"The ACGME has always been more prescriptive," she said. "It just doesn't work here."
She said that with the way Skagit Regional Health's program is structured, residents don't have the opportunity to treat the number and type of patients needed to meet new requirements.
Dr. Edwin Stickle, a family medicine doctor with Skagit Regional Clinics, said he worked to institute the program, and is frustrated to see it go.
"It's a horrible thing to see go away," he said. "It's almost worth any cost to the community."
He said the residency program is the main reason the county has so many primary care providers while many other communities don't have enough.
Doctors who enroll in the internal medicine program tend to go into other specialties, rather than focus on primary care, Stickle said.
Davis said canceling this program is not a budgetary decision. Rather, the way Skagit Regional Health has established its workflow now conflicts with the new requirements.
Davis said Skagit Regional Health has a strong recruitment team and she expects it will be able to attract primary care doctors without the residency program.