State Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, spoke on the need to recruit primary care physicians in rural communities at a welcoming ceremony for the newest residents of the Southwest Georgia Family Medicine Residency program on Thursday. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — Five new physicians have begun their residencies in Southwest Georgia
Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital set aside a day to welcome new resident physicians to the Southwest Georgia Family Medicine Residency Program — as is tradition with every new incoming class — on Thursday afternoon in the hospital’s main lobby.
The Class of 2017 includes Drs. Danielle Andrews, Sarah Codrea, Justin Lancaster, John Macon and Jennifer Yam. This year, state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony, during which the residents received the traditional white lab coat and pager and were introduced to the community.
The goal of the residency program is to train family physicians to practice throughout Southwest Georgia with the hopes of expanding the overall network of doctors in the region. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accredited program was developed in direct response, officials say, to physician shortages in the region and offers an opportunity for physicians to develop as strong clinicians capable of delivering high-quality primary care in any setting.
Powell made note of the significance of that mission in his remarks by saying that bringing more primary care physicians into an under-served area can have an impact not just to the general population but to the physicians as well, as the location of their practice is often influenced by where they do their residency.
“I’ve always been told you have to focus. It is not enough to focus; you have to focus on the right thing,” he said. “We are here (to recognize) that this institution is focusing on the right thing — and I’m talking about rural health care.
“The goal was to increase (the number of physicians) in the area. The program has not just succeeded, but exceeded the goal of getting 60 percent of residents (to practice) within 60 miles of here.”
He closed by addressing the residents themselves. “Give this place a real chance to be your home … This is a community that is a warm and welcoming group of people.”
Dr. Steve Kitchen, president of the medical staff, and Dr. Frank Middleton, interim chief medical officer at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, handed over the lab coats and pagers to the group. While addressing the need to improve access to health care in Southwest Georgia, Kitchen he left the residents with some words of encouragement.
“You are entering medicine at a very challenging time, but with challenge comes opportunity,” the medical staff president said. “The future of the health care system truly lies in your hands.”
The newly minted doctors will train with Southwest Georgia Family Medicine for three years to become eligible for board certification in family medicine, while working in multiple clinical areas at the hospital and around Albany.
Andrews, a graduate of Clark Atlanta University and Boston University School of Medicine, said that she has a particular interest in community health and total care of patients. She had never been to Albany before her interview, so she found the atmosphere and resources in Southwest Georgia to be more than she was expecting.
After her three years are done here, she sees potential for Albany to become her permanent home.
“I applied to many different places,” she said. “I came to interview here, and it felt really nice … I felt like I was at home. Everybody was so genuinely happy to see me… I was very impressed with how welcoming it is. I had breakfast with executives at the hospital; that goes a long way in showing how much they care. I was expecting to be an anonymous person. I’m really happy to be here for the next three years, maybe longer. “
There are eight physicians from the program’s 2014 class graduating. The 2015 and 2016 classes have six and five physicians in them, respectively — bringing the total number currently in the residency program to 16 physicians. Since the program’s inception in 1993, 78 of the 97 residents who have gone through the program chose to remain in Georgia at the time of their graduation, Phoebe officials said.