Photo via Saint Agnes A $1.2 million grant from CalMedForce is funding an internal medicine residency for 16 physicians at Saint Agnes Medical Center.

published on March 7, 2019 - 11:50 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno has been tackling the Valley’s physician shortage by expanding its residency program.

In 2016, the hospital was granted clearance by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) to act as a sponsoring institution for residents and in 2017, was accredited to begin a program for internal medicine. Last year, they received permission to begin teaching family medicine. The program will be aided by a $450,000 CalMedForce grant by Physicians for a Healthy California, an organization dedicated to community health improvement and physician workforce growth.

According to Dana Lucka, Ed.D, director of graduate medical education for Saint Agnes, this grant will cover family medicine residency education for three years. Meanwhile, the CalMedForce grant for internal medicine — which also covers the hospital for three years — is worth $1.2 million. This money has allowed the program to train 16 residents in internal medicine, including four preliminary physicians who will train for a year, and 12 categorical ones who will stay throughout the 3-year period. There are further plans to add on 16 more physicians with the same preliminary/category setup ratio.

Residency is the final phase in a physician’s educational process that will help determine their field of practice. Following residency, a doctor will typically choose their discipline, as is the case with the residents for Saint Agnes. The internal medicine residency is currently being overseen by Dr. Hemant Dhingra. The new family medicine program is being taught by Dr. Sumera Hayat.

One of the categorical residents currently working and learning at Saint Agnes is Dr. Keerat Dhatt. Dhatt grew up in the Valley and received her MD at St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada. According to her, the diverse team of residents has given them a pool of different advantages, viewpoints and experiences. As a pioneering class, they’ve also worked to set their own path to success.

“Because we’re a new class and this is a new thing at Saint Agnes, we’ve tried a lot of ways to keep the residents involved,” Keerat said. “So we have committees for wellness and I go to the GME (Graduate Medical Education) meetings for the GME committee, and we just kind of keep everyone involved in different things.”

According to Dr. Charles Farr, designated institutional official, Saint Agnes has seen 1,200 applications this year for the available 16 spots in internal medicine, while family practice is expected to begin next July. After that, the hospital has hopes to expand its residency program to the emergency room.

Dr. Farr added that the family medicine residency helps fill spots in a practice with a significant shortage in the region. This process involves not only training the new doctors, but also creating a desirable environment to practice medicine in. Further helping this cause is that many of the residents, like Dhatt, already have roots in the Central Valley or from nearby.

“And by training these young doctors here locally and encouraging them to stay with us, and building a place for them where they’d like to stay, we can really make a dent in that and change things dramatically over time,” Farr said.

This plan appears to be paying off, with some of the doctors already making the decision to stick around.

“They loved it here so much at Saint Agnes that two of our preliminaries have opted to stay,” Lucka said. “And their scores were good enough that we’re keeping them.”

In order to further encourage and improve the odds of these doctors working in the Central Valley, there may be a possibility of Saint Agnes reaching out to areas of medical education in the Valley UCSF Fresno and California Health Sciences University (CHSU), which is currently constructing a school for osteopathic medicine in Clovis.

“These are our future leaders and it’s fun to see this here in the Valley locally that’s going to have a huge impact, I think both locally and nationally,” Farr said. “Because people pay attention to what’s going on and this could be a model for a lot of other places.”

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