Tupelo — Attracting medical talent to local communities can be challenging for any geographic region, given the array of options and competitive opportunities available to young physicians. One strategy is to offer training opportunities that provide such a positive experience that physicians will want to remain following the completion of their residency.
That has been an overriding objective of the North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC) Family Medicine Residency Center in Tupelo, which recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its family medicine residency training program. Throughout the years, many of the program’s family medicine residents have come from surrounding communities, which offers them the chance to return home while they complete their studies, according to director Michael O’Dell, M.D. Moreover, it provides a win-win for the community in terms of interaction with various not-for-profit organizations that provide healthcare services.
“Training young physicians to become skilled family physicians is important to our area, and physicians in our program have been very active in this community, serving at the Good Samaritan Free Clinic, CatchKids Clinics and various other entities,” says O’Dell. “After graduation, most residents continue to practice and serve in this area, offering stability and high-quality medical care to local residents.”
O’Dell states that national experience demonstrates that graduates of residency training programs tend to locate in a 50-mile radius from the training center.
“This has certainly been our experience,” asserts O’Dell. “As of the end of 2005, we have 33 graduates from the program. Of these, 27 — over 80% — practice in Mississippi. Nineteen graduate physicians are now in our referral area, with 14 of these physicians engaged in practice in one of our affiliated clinics.”
Beyond quality of care, there are broader economic development benefits as well. O’Dell says that research show on average that a new family physician in a community brings roughly $1.4 million in new dollars to the community through related new services such as pharmacy, durable medical supplies, new employees at the clinic and so forth. Moreover, there are also ripple effects to area merchants who generally experience new customers related to a person and his/her family coming to the community for medical care, O’Dell adds.
But most importantly, the North Mississippi Medical Center Family Medicine Residency Program was developed to satisfy the demand for family physicians in Northeast Mississippi and to provide a venue to satisfy the desires of much of the organization’s medical staff to teach their skills to younger physicians. Specifically, O’Dell says objectives were three-fold: to train physicians to engage in primary-care practices in the hospital’s service area and Mississippi; to develop an academic teaching service that would remain abreast of current medical practice; and to attract skilled family practice faculty and specialist physicians to engage in teaching and patient care at NMMC.
O’Dell says that throughout the years, the initiative has grown considerably from “idea” stage in 1992 to an organization that in 2006 has a fully-accredited training program, a quality facility, a staff of 14, seven full-time family physician faculty members, a full-time pharmacist faculty, part-time dietician and psychological faculty, numerous specialty physician teachers and 21 currently-enrolled trainees.
O’Dell adds that the program is one of the few in the nation with a fully functional electronic health record which was installed about six years ago.
Physicians who come to the training program cover a wide geographic area, according to O’Dell, but more often than not, they have some sort of ties to Mississippi — for example, they may have been born here or attended college here. In general, trainees are recruited from medical and osteopathic schools in the South.
In terms of format, the residency is a three-year training program and physicians who have graduated from medical or osteopathic school obtain a full or training license from the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure prior to entering training. During their first year, or internship year, they undergo 12 months of training that is mostly hospital based, according to O’Dell. Each month, they begin a new period of training in areas such as caring for children, emergency care, geriatric care and so on. The interns are tightly supervised by both the faculty and upper-level residents. The second and third years are more focused on outpatient care. Second- and third-year residents also begin a new period of training each month, but spend much more time in the family medicine clinic seeing patients under the supervision of faculty.
“We have been very successful in meeting our objectives,” O’Dell says. “There are fewer critical shortages of family physicians in our area than is the case in most other areas in Mississippi.”
Kevin R. Johnson, D.O., at the Saltillo Medical Clinic says that the NMMC Family Medicine Residency Center fit his training needs in preparing for his longer-term goals.
Johnson, who completed his training in October 2005, said that he had looked at other programs in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., but was drawn to Tupelo for a variety of factors such as its cooperative nature, as well as its community-hospital setting. He says that he liked the absence of “turf battles” with other residencies and that everything could be focused on training the family medicine residents versus what he might have experienced in a larger, more urban hospital setting.
Johnson adds that his training provided an opportunity to establish referral patterns and to become comfortable with the local medical community while they in turn learned to become comfortable with him.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at email@example.com.