St. Mary's Medical Education

6/13/12 — The Board of Directors of St. Mary’s Health Care System has approved the recommendation of St. Mary’s leadership to begin working toward creating a graduate medical education (GME) program – residencies – in conjunction with the Georgia Health Sciences University/University of Georgia Partnership Medical School in Athens.

“GME is vital to the education of our state’s next generation of physicians,” said board Chairman Charlie Upchurch. “Georgia’s physician workforce ranks 44th in the nation even though we are the 9th most populous state. We feel it is an important part of St. Mary’s mission to help prepare the next generation of doctors and make it attractive for them to practice here in the communities we serve.”

According to St. Mary’s Chief Medical Officer Bruce Middendorf, M.D., studies show that GME programs have a powerful influence on where new doctors choose to practice medicine. Only 33 percent of new medical school graduates stay to practice in the state from which they graduate, he said. However, 78 percent stay in the state from which they both graduate and complete their residency.

“In order to compete with other states and communities in physician recruitment, it’s vital to have a strong GME program at St. Mary’s to serve Athens and Northeast Georgia,” he said.

Very importantly, studies also show that GME programs lead to better patient care and clinical outcomes, Dr. Middendorf said. “Residents bring energy and enthusiasm to the hospital, as well as the latest research and medical knowledge from academic institutions. Plus, working with residents helps physician mentors sharpen their own knowledge and skills. Everyone benefits.”

“We need to play an active role in coordinating this long term solution with other community stakeholders,” said St. Mary’s President and CEO Don McKenna. “Promoting the growth, development, and supply of qualified physicians in our communities is paramount to the health and wellbeing of those we serve. With our area being a destination for Baby Boomers, the demand for physicians is increasing. By expanding our valued partnership with the partnership medical school to develop residency programs, we will be better positioned to meet these demands. This step is exciting for all of us and it provides for an opportunity to enhance our community’s access to high quality health care for decades to come.”

Upchurch and McKenna noted that the opportunity will be a challenge as the cost to develop residency programs is substantial. However, Gov. Nathan Deal recently committed to assist in funding some of these costs. St. Mary’s is in the process of applying for a portion of these funds, which will be administered by the Georgia Board of Regents.

“Graduate medical education is complex, but it’s a vital step toward becoming a practicing physician,” Dr. Middendorf said. “Having a solid GME program at St. Mary’s under the sponsorship of the partnership medical school will further enhance our region’s reputation as a hub for quality health care. As a physician myself, I am tremendously excited about the opportunity to be involved in preparing our next generation of physicians for practice.”

The next step, Middendorf said, is that leaders from St. Mary’s and the partnership medical school will begin discussing specifics of the new GME program, such as how many residencies the system will host, what kinds of specialties it can accommodate, which physicians will serve as faculty, and when residents can begin working.

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