The U.S. is facing a critical shortage of primary care physicians, and the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific is responding to those needs.

Strengthening the role of primary care is a key element in most proposals to improve the outcomes and efficiency of health care delivery in the United States, according to the article, “Primary Care Physician Workforce and Medicare Beneficiaries’ Health Outcomes,” published May 25, 2011 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

With the aging population and the waning interest in primary care by U.S. medical school graduates, some have projected a large shortage of general internists and family physicians to care for a growing number of elderly patients, according to the article.

But COMP, part of Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., is bucking this trend. Nearly 70 percent of the COMP Class of 2012 – 141 of 206 graduates — matched into primary care residency specialties.

“There are other institutions that are training mostly specialists, and a lot of those institutions are looking for ways to transform their universities to meet the demand for promoting primary care,” said COMP Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Robert Warren, DO. “We’re two decades ahead of most other institutions in having already recognized that need, and having taken upon ourselves as a university to make that one of our primary, fundamental goals. So in a lot of ways we’re ahead of what other universities are in their way of thinking in trying to meet that demand.”

COMP students get early exposure to primary care role models from the beginning of their training, interacting in their didactics with faculty members who are primary care physicians, said COMP Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Lisa Warren, DO.

“A lot of the family physicians partake in our preclinical activities,” she said. “I think the students are encouraged by that mentorship, and I think that indirectly gets them involved. They want to do primary care medicine.”

Robert and Lisa Warren met and married while attending WesternU. They earned their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees from COMP in 2001, moved to Texas for their residencies, and are board certified in Family Medicine and Pediatrics. They recently returned to WesternU as faculty members to train the next generation of primary care physicians.

Robert is a full-time clinical physician who teaches students on their family medicine core rotation. He has a full panel of patients and serves as the medical director at WesternU’s Patient Care Center.

“Family medicine chose me more than I chose it,” Robert said. “I realized that I get to do everything in family medicine, and it took until halfway through my residency to truly understand and embrace the specialty for what it is. You get to see all ages. You get to deal with preventative health care, chronic disease management, and acute disease management.”

Robert practiced emergency medicine for seven years at Providence Health Center Emergency Department in Waco, Texas, helping to expand and develop a mid-size emergency department from 20,000 visits a year to more than 100,000. He also became involved in graduate medical education.

He is enrolled in the Health Care Executive MBA program at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine.

Both Warrens grew up with doctors in the family. Robert’s father, Jim Warren, MD, taught radiology and took students on rotation at COMP in the 1990s and 2000s. Robert’s sister, Kristina Galyon, DO, graduated from COMP in 2009 and is completing her obstetrics/gynecology residency at the University of California, San Francisco, Fresno Program.

Lisa’s father, Steven Deterville, MD, is a pediatrician in Corona, Calif. Lisa became a pediatrician because of the influence of both her father and her third-year pediatrics rotation mentor, Dr. Frances Yang.

“She was really instrumental in encouraging me to pursue pediatrics, as well as my dad,” Lisa said. “It was natural. I enjoyed the atmosphere. It was a lot of pathology, a great teaching experience, and it just felt right.”

Lisa served as the director of newborn services, as a general pediatrician, and as pediatric residency program director at Scott and White Memorial Hospital in Temple, Texas. She helped the pediatric residency program thrive with improved resident board scores and a better working environment. She also contributed to the development of a children’s hospital.

“Going from the residency perspective now to the medical student perspective, I feel my experience as a program director really gives me a lot of insight to help prepare these students that are here for what’s about to happen to them,” Lisa said. “As I start the chair of pediatrics department role, I will be able to take that leadership experience and help nurture and grow these students to that level.”