Plugging the ‘Leaky Pipe’ in Primary Care

Six Residents Share How the U of M Medical School Helped Solidify Their Careers

Read time: 4 mins

The “leaky pipe” in primary care is not unknown to the healthcare industry. A study revealed that of 17,000 medical degree graduates, 41% matched into primary care – but only 22% of those followed through to the field.

That’s a problem because the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration estimates the country is short roughly 15,000 primary care physicians today, particularly in rural and underserved communities. By 2033, the American Medical Association predicts that number will increase to 21,000.

The University of Minnesota Medical School’s 2021 Match Day results show that 53% of its 241 medical students will begin Primary Care residencies this fall – and a great amount of them will follow through to practice. This year, the U.S. News & World Report ranked the U of M Medical School as #5 in Primary Care, a credit to the new scoring factor that considers the number of residency graduates who go on to practice in primary care. 

"We are fortunate in Minnesota that the University of Minnesota Medical School is committed to partnering with hospitals and health systems in training our physicians and healthcare workforce of the future,” said Rahul Koranne, MD, president and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Hospital Association. “Working together, the University of Minnesota Medical School and the state's hospitals and health systems train physicians to be of service to their patients and communities. In all parts of the state, from rural to metro areas, having a strong pipeline of well-trained, future caregivers is critically important to keep Minnesota as one of the best states to receive and provide healthcare."

To better understand how medical training at the U of M Medical School helps residents maintain their interest and intent to serve as a primary care physician, six graduating residents – all of whom plan to stay in Minnesota – share the most instrumental aspect of their training that solidified their careers in the field. 


Courtney Burnett, MD

“Finding a Home in Continuity Care”
Joining HealthPartners St. Paul Primary Care Clinic
St. Paul, Minnesota

"Choosing to complete my internal medicine residency at the U of M Medical School was one of the best career decisions I have made. Over the course of my residency, I found a home in my primary care continuity clinic. Through this immersive three-year clinic experience, I was able to work with my own panel of patients and truly experienced the honor of being a patient's doctor. Ironically, near the same time of my graduation, I was diagnosed with cancer and had my own experience as a patient. I found that this experience would benefit patients through a mutual understanding we now share. I am looking forward to forming long-term relationships with patients: learning their stories, helping them advocate for themselves, offering medical support but also empathy and a listening ear from a physician who truly understands what it is like to be a patient."

You can read more about Dr. Burnett’s experience in her recently published memoir, “Difficult Gifts: A Physician's Journey to Heal Body and Mind.”



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Tess Michielutti, MD

“Relationships with Patients that Sustain a Meaningful and Challenging Career”
Joining Park Nicollet Primary Care Clinic
Maple Grove, Minn.

"Throughout my residency, there has never been a shortage of internal medicine and pediatrics preceptors willing to teach in the Twin Cities, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to train in this program. It has been my mentors at my weekly continuity clinic that really opened my eyes to the field of primary care. Working at the HealthPartners Midway Clinic for four years has taught me how to work with and learn from a diverse patient population, understand how different cultures approach their healthcare and care for patients from birth to the end of their lives. My continuity clinic has shown me that the relationships I form with patients, families and coworkers can sustain a very meaningful and challenging career in primary care and, for that, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be trained at the U of M Medical School."



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Melinda Zhang, MD

“Cultivating an Individual Style of Practice”
Joining OGI (OBGYN & Infertility)
Maple Grove/Edina, Minnesota

"An instrumental aspect of my residency education was the opportunity to learn from a diverse group of attending physicians at our many training sites. Each attending has helped me build a strong clinical foundation, but by also sharing their unique approaches in surgical techniques and clinical care, I have gained an appreciation for the subtleties in medicine. I think the ability to start cultivating an individual style of practice that’s well-rooted in evidence-based medicine has helped prepare me for my post-residency career."



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Ashley Green, MD

“Early Access to Pediatrics Training”
Joining Olmsted Medical Center
Rochester, Minnesota

"I was part of the U of M Medical School’s EPAC Program (Education in Pediatrics Across the Continuum), which allowed me to ‘match’ into Pediatrics as a second-year medical student. As part of the program, my education has been Pediatric-focused since my third year of medical school. I have also been a learner at M Health Fairview Children's Clinic from my third year of medical school through completion of residency, which has provided wonderful continuity with patients and their families, in addition to amazing preceptors who have nurtured my love for primary care along the way."



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Melissa Hardy, MD

“Opportunity for a Personalized Education”
Joining M Health Fairview Burnsville Clinic
Burnsville, Minnesota

"If I had to pin down exactly what makes our program so superior in helping me and my colleagues reach our goals, it would be our amazing leadership. One area that piqued my interest during my intern year was Breastfeeding Medicine. Our program leadership allowed me to take a 45-hour course on breastfeeding to become a Certified Lactation Consultant, gave me resources and contacts in order to create my own special elective in Lactation, and in turn let me present my newfound knowledge of Breastfeeding Medicine in various forms, including lunch lectures and block education, which all of our residents and some faculty attend. My program's encouragement, flexibility, monetary resources and ability to teach others has been vital to creating my own personalized education. I am forever grateful to my residency program and its amazing leadership for my preparedness going into the primary care workforce, my IBCLC certification that has set me apart and my ability to land a job even amidst a global pandemic."



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Munir Abdalla, MD

“High-quality Preceptors from Evidence-based Medicine”
Applying now and plans to stay in Minnesota

"I always enjoyed working with children and primary care, so it was an easy choice to pursue a career as a primary care pediatrician. Since our program is the only residency program in the Twin Cities, we have the advantage of being able to rotate in most of the healthcare organizations in the area and, ultimately, get exposed to diverse patient populations and learn different styles of management. During my first year in residency, I had two months of protected time away from inpatient, where I spent time in my continuity clinic at HCMC learning about the fundamentals of primary care, which drew me more to the field. An additional benefit of our residency education is the high quality of the preceptors who practice evidence-based medicine and are always ready to teach, even at busy times. Also, there are a variety of great educational activities, such as morning reports, grand rounds, virtual learnings and block education, throughout the week that are designed to complement medical education derived from patient encounters."