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Phoebe welcomes eight to Residency program

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ALBANY — The “Phoebe Family” expanded by eight on Wednesday, as the Class of ’24 Family Medicine Residents were introduced to their “siblings” and the community in a welcoming ceremony that has become a ritual for new doctors with the southwest Georgia health system.

Drs. Irenna Agazie, Uchechi Aguwa, Robert Busic, Xavier Capalla, Jithin George, Shivan Patel, Michael Sonntag and Michelle Wilson, selected from more than 1,000 applicants and 101 interviewees, were given their ceremonial white coats and encouraged to find both the professionalism and the humanity of their latest step toward becoming healers.


Resident Dr. Michael Sonntag receives his white doctor’s coat from Phoebe Putney Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dianna Grant during a ceremony Wednesday at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

“You are standing on sacred ground right now; this is a sacred ceremony,” Phoebe Putney Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dianna Grant told the new doctors. “These white coats will be your light.”

State Sen. Dean Burke, who practiced obstetrics and gynecology for 27 years and is now chief medical officer at Memorial Hospital and Manor in Bainbridge, warned the residents that they may have to work at staying grounded.

“In this community, you’re going to be special,” Burke, who, among other positions, serves as vice chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said. “You’re a doctor, and around here that means something. But you can’t let it go to your heads. I urge you not to let the public know you’re a doctor. Instead, connect with the people of your community as a human being.”


New Phoebe Resident Dr. Robert Busic is helped on with his new white doctor's coat by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kathy Hudson, left, and Phoebe Putney Health System CMO Dr. Dianna Grant.

Burke, who lauded “my best friend in the Senate, Sen. Freddie Powell Sims,” who was also at the welcoming ceremony, said he hoped the residents had used his “first prerequisite in choosing a residency: a place where I felt welcome.”

Dr. William Fricks, who introduced the residents to friends, family members and other members of the Phoebe Family who’d gathered for the ceremony, said he was “sitting where you are today 20 years ago.”

“I’ll admit something today: I never planned to stay in Albany,” Fricks, who was named director of the Phoebe Family Medicine Residency Program two years ago, said. “But when I got here, the treatment I received made me want to stay.”


State Sen. Dean Burke gives the keynote address during a welcoming ceremony Wednesday for doctors in Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Program.

The residency program was initiated at Phoebe as a way to try and get more doctors to practice in mostly rural southwest Georgia and other parts of the state. Phoebe Health System CEO Scott Steiner said, in that regard, the program has been overwhelmingly successful.

“We’re had 140 graduates in our residency program, and 60% of them are still practicing medicine in Georgia,” Steiner said. “What a success that is.”

Agazie attended the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University; Aguwa the University of Nigeria Faculty of Medicine; Busic the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine; Capalla the University of Kansas School of Medicine; George the Ross University School of Medicine; Patel the St. George’s University School of Medicine; Sonntag the Edward Via College of Medicine, and Wilson the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine.


The new residents welcomed to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Wednesday were, from left, Irenna Agazie, Uchechi Aguwa, Shivan Patel, Jithin George, Michael Sonntag, Xavier Capalla, Michelle Wilson and Robert Busic.

Each of the residents was given a “welcome wagon” — an actual wagon and a separate tote bag — by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, each filled to overflowing with “hundreds of dollars worth” of gifts from local businesses. Chamber Board Chairman Matt Reed welcomed the residents on behalf of the chamber and businesses that contributed the gifts.

Although he is an administrator at a different southwest Georgia hospital — and he slyly told the residents to keep him and the Bainbridge facility in mind when they completed their residency — Burke told the doctors they’d landed at a special place.

“I appreciate the fact that there is a special culture at this place,” he said, indicating Phoebe. “There really is a Phoebe Family. It’s very real.”

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