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Editorial: Good medicine for health care growth
Medical Center’s new residency program will fill a key need in industry
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Dr. J. Allen Butts, right, works a laparoscopic surgery exercise as Brian Whalen watches Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, during an open house of Northeast Georgia Medical Center's new medical education wing for incoming medical residents. - photo by Scott Rogers

In addition to poultry and Lake Lanier, perhaps the industry most connected with Gainesville and Hall County is health care. The area has become a destination for health services in Northeast Georgia in recent years and that influence keeps growing. 

Northeast Georgia Medical Center campuses in Gainesville and Braselton have added numerous specialties, health professionals and services, as have many of the satellite health clinics in the area. This accessibility to medical care is one of the reasons so many senior communities have located here.

Brenau University’s Health Sciences program offers varied degrees in nursing, physical and occupational therapy and psychiatry to trained medical professionals. Degrees in medical fields also are offered at the University of North Georgia.

Now the Medical Center is taking its own step to help prepare future doctors with its new residency program. The program, which launches in 2019, was unveiled last week with a tour of its new facilities at the Gainesville campus. 

Up to 170 resident medical students are expected to enroll by 2024, which would make it one of the state’s largest resident programs. Students can apply in one of six specialties: internal medicine, family medicine, general surgery, OB/GYN, psychiatry and emergency medicine. They’ll have space to bunk while on-call, along with classrooms, labs and administrative offices, all while training in fields covering newborns to geriatric care. 

The state has invested some $6 million to help the health system’s $9 million up-front investment in the facilities, leadership, faculty and other resources. The program also will be subsidized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Gov. Nathan Deal has set a goal of adding 400 additional graduate residency slots in Georgia hospitals to meet a growing demand for health care. As it is now, many medical students leave the state for such programs, leaving hospitals and clinics here in need of skilled physicians.

Deal was on hand for the facility tour and said it “sort of reminds me of what my wife told me when I started to begin to accumulate horses. She said, ‘You know you need to build the stable before you buy the horses.’ Well, y’all have built a very nice stable here.”

In addition, the program will boost the area’s economy. The University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government estimates it will provide Hall County some $66 million in growth 2019 to 2023, and $18 million yearly thereafter. It will create more than 90 jobs in 2019, and as many as 300 four years later.

The program is a good investment, not only for Hall’s economy and the Medical Center’s expanded reach, but in the state’s future development of medical professionals. As baby boomers continue to age, the need to train more doctors and specialists grows more acute. Having students embedded in the community as they gain expertise will help create that pipeline for medical talent.

Hall’s economic base is solidified by its diversity, avoiding setbacks from downturns in one industry or another. The health system’s residency program will help serve to make the medical leg of that  stool even stronger in years to come.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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