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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - About 115 members of the University of Vermont College of Medicine's class of 2017 received their distinctive white coats Friday at a ceremony on the Burlington campus. The coats represent a start of their journeys toward careers as physicians, and also serve as a reminder of the many responsibilities that come with practicing medicine, said Dr. Christa Zehle, the school's associate dean for students.
The ceremony came the same month online insurance marketplaces mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act were rolled out. According to the Congressional Budget Office, about 7-million uninsured people will obtain health coverage next year through the exchanges. Vermont's marketplace is called Vermont Health Connect.
"I think it's on your mind," said UVM medical student Sarah Waterman Manning, describing how the Affordable Care Act is being addressed in classes and conversations with peers and instructors. "The hope is that people go to their primary care doctors, people see the doctor before they're really, really sick, so that patient health will ultimately improve and that community health will ultimately improve."
"They do a really good job kind of keeping us up to date with what's going on with it; what the potential implications will be," added Manning's husband, Will, also a medical student, and half of what UVM believes is the first married couple to receive white coats together at the same ceremony.
Under the Affordable Care Act, middle and low-income families will get tax credits to help them pay for coverage. More key features of the law are available on a website managed by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
"If all of a sudden you make it so that previously uninsured people can go to their primary care doctor, that's great for outcomes and costs overall, but where are you going to find these extra primary care providers?" asked Will Manning rhetorically. "And the ones you already have could get overworked. I think in the long run it's going to end up being a really good thing, but there might be a bit of a rough transition patch in the near future."
Medical students are now hearing more references to health care reform in classes and discussion groups, Dr. Zehle said. "It's important for physicians to be aware of the cost of health care," she told New England Cable News. "We are recognizing the importance that physicians be aware of the business aspect of health care as well as the patient aspects of health care."
Zehle noted that curricula at medical schools across the country have increasingly addressed industry realities in recent years. She said while several things will change in the new era of health care, like who's on Medicaid, how some physicians get paid, and how more young adults can stay on their parents' plans, the constant for doctors should be a patient-focused approach.
"Are things different from when the people that trained me and when I started, and for my students in the future? Absolutely," Zehle told NECN. "Health care always is changing. But the goal is always to be able to provide affordable, accessible high-quality care to our patients."
The Mannings said they are eager to learn more about the coming changes, well aware another reality of being doctors is one day paying back all those student loans from medical school. "This is not a get-rich-quick scheme," Sarah Waterman Manning chuckled.