Gainesville’s newest doctors will start seeing patients on Monday, July 1, forging a path as Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s first residents in the hospital’s graduate medical education program.
The 26 physicians will be working in internal medicine and general surgery, doing rotations at the Gainesville and Braselton hospitals, as well as local outpatient centers and clinics.
For Dr. Sameena Salcin, an internal medicine resident, the graduate medical education program is a return home. The Atlanta native and University of Georgia alumna said she sees medicine as a way to give back to her home state.
Salcin worked on global health policy in Washington D.C. after college, then went to medical school at American University of the Caribbean and spent a year working at a hospital in London.
“For the longest time, I really thought that the greatest need in health care was in international developing countries and those populations, but I had several experiences in medical school that led me to the conclusion that every community around the world has patient populations that are suffering from access to health care,” Salcin said. “That is definitely true in Georgia. We have one of the largest health care physician shortages. I came to the conclusion that I could do the most good by coming back home.”
Addressing that physician shortage, especially in rural areas of Northeast Georgia, is the goal of the residency program, according to Dr. John Delzell, the hospital’s vice president for graduate medical education.
“The population of Georgia has grown faster than the physician population in Georgia,” Delzell said. “As people have moved into the area and that has really driven growth across the state, the physician population hasn’t kept up.”
Residents who decide to practice in the region permanently can help with that shortage.
Tim Evans, vice president for economic development with the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said that where someone gets their education often determines where they settle down.
“Data tells us that residents often do stay and practice medicine in the same area where they complete their residency,” Evans said. “… The location where someone gets their undergraduate degree has a great deal of influence on where they will get their first job and where they will start their career.”
The residency program is a way to attract those young physicians to Gainesville, he said.
“Part of the intent of the graduate medical program is to get the talent here and hopefully attract and keep that medical talent in the community to support our growing health care needs,” Evans said.
While Gainesville itself may not be as negatively affected, other areas served by the Northeast Georgia Health System don’t have enough doctors to support health care needs, Delzell said.
“It has hit more rural areas harder than the urban areas like inside metro Atlanta,” he said. “We have a high growth rate in Hall County, but Northeast Georgia has more of the rural physician population. That tends to be a little lower than the amount of physicians you see in a more urban setting.”
Dr. Cash Sterling, a general surgery resident, chose Gainesville for his residency because of his small town background. He was one of 16 students in his high school graduating class in Kansas, then went to Washburn University for college and the University of Kansas School of Medicine.
“I wanted that community structure and having that social support is very important to me,” he said of the hospital’s residency program.
Sterling said his experiences in childhood and throughout his education influenced his decision to become a surgeon.
“I grew up on a farm. I was constantly working with my hands, working on the farm or doctoring cattle. … I also fell in love with the human body when I was in high school and took my first anatomy and physiology course, and I really enjoyed that,” Sterling said. “My mom owns a restaurant and catering company, and I always liked to help people and that hospitality feel was always something I gravitated toward. With surgery, I was able to combine all three of those things, human anatomy, doing things with my hands and helping people.”
Sterling said he is looking forward to getting back in the operating room.
“I love to learn and I love that the residency program here at Northeast Georgia Medical Center offers some excellent one-on-one, hands-on experiences,” he said.
Salcin also said she is excited to treat patients in Gainesville, and working in internal medicine gives her the opportunity to help patients with a variety of concerns.
“Whether you’re a hospitalist working in the hospital or you’re in the outpatient setting in a clinic, you have the ability to really impact the day-to-day nature of their care and their health and their overall wellness,” she said.
The residency program’s main goal is to train and educate physicians, and Delzell said there’s always something to learn — the database of medical knowledge doubles about every 75 days.
“For residents, they’re still in the learning process, so now where they’re at, at the end of medical school, is really at the tip of the spear,” Delzell said. “They know all the most recent things, and the challenge is continuing to learn over time.”
Residents will practice at the new Medical Park 2 building, which is currently under construction on Jesse Jewell Parkway near the existing Medical Park 1. The 70,000-square-foot building will house a family medicine practice and other medical offices. The building is due to be finished in 2020.
In 2020, the graduate medical program will add a family medicine that will have 12 residents in its first class. Overall, the graduate medical education program is expected to level off at the maximum number of about 200 residents in about 2025.
“We’ve had a great response from the community, and we’re really excited as these young professionals get integrated into the Gainesville landscape and as people get to know them,” Delzell said.