September 7, 2023 by
Janet Essman Franz
Cliff Reilly '24 aspires to work at a small community hospital in Vermont.
When Cliff Reilly graduates from the Larner College of Medicine in May, he envisions leaving Vermont—temporarily—to pursue an emergency medicine residency, perhaps followed by fellowship training. His dream, however, includes returning to his beloved Green Mountain State to settle down and practice emergency medicine. As the inaugural recipient of the David and Eleanor Ignat Scholars Incentive Scholarship/Loan Forgiveness program, that dream is within Reilly’s grasp.
The Ignat Scholars Incentive will forgive Reilly’s medical school loans, if he returns to Vermont within a year following his residency and fellowship programs. Endowed by David and Eleanor Ignat, longtime philanthropic supporters of the University of Vermont, the incentive aims to strengthen the physician workforce pipeline into Vermont, as the state competes nationally and globally to attract and retain an appropriate and geographically distributed physician workforce.
An avid backcountry skier, canoeist, rock climber, and farm-to-table enthusiast, Reilly and his fiancée, Kristin Knutzen, spend as much time as possible exploring Vermont’s forests, slopes, waterways, and farmers markets. The couple feels at home in Vermont’s rural regions, including Chester, where Reilly enjoyed visiting his grandparents, Knutzen's Middlebury alma mater, and the Norwich community where the couple lived before moving to Burlington. During Reilly’s third year of medical school, he participated in a longitudinal clerkship at the Central Vermont Medical Center primary care clinic in Waterbury, where he built relationships with patients and their families. This is the lifestyle Reilly wants for himself, and for his future patients.
“I would love to build a life here and raise my future family in Vermont. It’s a great state and has a wonderful patient population,” Reilly said. “Seeing families multiple times, and getting to know the moms, dads, and kids was a nice experience.”
In rural communities nationwide, lower rates of pay make it challenging to recruit young physicians. In Vermont, an aging population has increased the demand for health care providers, and, as older physicians retire, Vermont’s physician shortage continues to rise.
“Physician workforce shortages are well-documented and chronic, especially in rural areas,” said Elizabeth Cote, director of the Larner College of Medicine Office of Primary Care and Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Program, which was established in 1996 to improve access to quality health care through its focus on workforce development. “Philanthropy can have a tremendous impact on workforce development and provides the greatest opportunity to innovate.”
Offering to pay the medical school tuition for students who commit to practice in Vermont after their medical training is one strategy to attract more young doctors to the state.
“The Ignat family’s gift removes barriers for me, and other doctors, to come back to practice in Vermont,” Reilly said. “I have a preference toward rural emergency departments and smaller community hospitals. Having the option to have my loans forgiven makes that decision easier.”
The Ignat Scholars incentive is initially issued as a loan covering medical school payments. If recipients do not return to practice in Vermont within one year of completing their training, they must repay the loan with interest. The program is open to fourth-year Larner medical students pursuing any medical specialties.
For additional information about physician recruitment and retention initiatives, visit the Larner College of Medicine AHEC Program.