MUSKEGON — By forming academic partnerships for a new medical clinic in Muskegon, Mercy Health aims to extend primary care where it’s needed and to create a talent pipeline of future health care workers.
The new Mercy Health Physician Partners Quarterline Family Medicine Clinic on the campus of Muskegon Community College serves a dual role of care provider and a clinical training ground for students pursuing medical careers.
Scheduled to open in January and staffed by nurse practitioners employed by Mercy Health, the clinic provides a setting for nursing, medical assistant and respiratory therapy students at MCC and nursing and nurse practitioner students at Grand Valley State University to gain clinical experience as they earn their degrees.
As care providers such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and medical assistants take on a larger role in providing basic primary care to patients, Mercy Health hopes that some of those students will go to work at the health system after graduation.
“The collaboration is important because these are our future workers and leaders,” said Mercy Health Muskegon President Gary Allore. “It’s a recruitment tool for us.”
Housed in MCC’s new 52,000-square-foot Health and Wellness Center, the Quarterline Family Medicine sports eight exam rooms, a treatment room and a lab. The clinic will serve staff and students at MCC and a medically underserved neighborhood in eastern Muskegon County with three nurse practitioners and support staff, plus students in clinical training.
The clinic, with a unique staffing model led by nurse practitioners, represents a first for Mercy Health, said Kim Maguire, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Mercy Health Muskegon.
Maguire first learned 10 years ago of a similar clinic that the GVSU Kirkhof College of Nursing runs in Grand Rapids. She’s worked since to bring one to Muskegon “so that we have a training ground (and) a place we can bring nurse practitioner students to be trained and to grow our own,” Maguire said.
“That was my main motive, to really promote the profession of nursing and to have more opportunity to train NPs in our system,” she said. “Our goal is to have more students coming through the center to be trained and, hopefully, employed by Mercy Health.”
Nurse practitioners staffing the clinic will share employment at GVSU and Mercy Health as instructors and medical professionals. A lead NP employed by Mercy Health will oversee clinic operations and see patients.
The staffing model offers Mercy Health an ability to extend primary care services in the face of a growing physician shortage that for several years has led care providers to make greater use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
“Mid-level providers in general — PAs and nurse practitioners — are becoming much more plentiful than physicians, and they provide a huge level of excellent service, improve access to health care, and they deliver high quality,” said Dr. Kristen Brown, vice president for clinical affairs at Mercy Health Physician Partners.
“It helps us extend our workforce and meet the needs of the community by looking at these different models and how we work together,” Brown said. “We are evolving the physician-provider care team in our traditional practices to partner with more and more mid-levels, both NPs and PAs, to extend our access and ability to take more patients in and provide them that ongoing care.”
Research shows a high demand for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, both regionally and across the U.S.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the demand for nurse practitioners to grow 31 percent nationwide from 2016 to 2026. The agency reports that nurse practitioners as of 2017 earned a median wage of $104,860 nationally, and $102,250 in Michigan.
Physician assistant employment nationally could grow 37 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In West Michigan, GVSU’s most recent annual HealthCheck report for 2018 projected 13.3 percent growth in employment for nurse practitioners from 2018 to 2024 in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties. GVSU projects a 10-year growth rate of 23.5 percent through 2024 for the profession.
Employment for physician assistants is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2024, and 19.4 percent in the 10 years through 2024, according to GVSU.
The employment projections are “heavily influenced by the health needs of an aging population that requires more care,” according to the 2018 HealthCheck report.
Mercy Health sees the Quarterline Family Medicine as providing a “learning lab” as primary care evolves and doctors, mid-level providers and other disciplines such as nurses, social workers, therapists and pharmacists work closer to better coordinate care for individual patients. The health system can apply the lessons learned through the nurse practitioner-led care model at its other primary care practices.
“Taking care of people’s health and wellness is a team approach,” Brown said. “It’s understanding roles and how we engage the patient. It’s that interdisciplinary care that we need and how that team comes together.”