[caption id="attachment_229157" align="aligncenter" width="730"] New hospital system resident physicians are announced with pomp and circumstance during Match Day ceremonies, like this one at Bayhealth. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BAYHEALTH[/caption]
Much like the shortage of nurses impacting health care services around the state, physicians are similarly in need around Delaware, with a pre-pandemic study finding that numbers were already declining before the crisis likely exacerbated the issue.One way that health care systems in Kent and Sussex counties, where much of the state’s medically underserved population lives, have begun to increase their workforces is through new residency programs, which host recently graduated medical students for three to five years as they put learned skills to work ahead of full licensing or board certification.Students from around the world apply to hospitals for these programs and rank their preferences, a process also completed by the employers. A national database then matches students to hospitals for each years’ cohort, ensuring that available slots are filled.While ChristianaCare, Nemours Children’s Health and St. Francis have hosted more than a dozen residency programs in total for decades in northern Delaware, producing hundreds of local doctors over the years, such programs are still in their infancy in southern Delaware.In the last three years, Bayhealth, Beebe Healthcare and TidalHealth, which operate hospitals in Dover, Milford, Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Seaford, as well as a number of primary care and outpatient locations, have created seven new residency programs.Bayhealth was the first to become accredited for its programs, launching family medicine and internal medicine programs in 2021 followed by general surgery last year. A new emergency medicine program begins this year, which will bring the total number of residents in the system to around 70.“We want them to like it here and want to settle down here, and we definitely have positions for many of these people when they come out,” said Dr. Gary Siegelman, chief medical officer and designated institutional official for Bayhealth.While under the supervision of attending physicians, the residents in smaller health systems like those in southern Delaware are far more likely to be involved in hands-on patient care early in their tenure.“You're involved firsthand the majority of the time here, it’s not like a first-year resident has to watch a third-year resident,” Siegelman said.In coastal Delaware, Beebe is preparing to roll out its first residency in family medicine this summer with four physicians. Dr. Joyce Robert said they decided on that specialty because it's broad enough to cover a wide range of patients who are relocating to the area and seeking primary care.In its inaugural year, Beebe received about 500 applications from interested medical students around the world, with the health system interviewing about 70 for final selections, Robert said. She was proud that Beebe President and CEO Dr. David Tam was attempting to sit in on every possible interview, which exemplifies the system’s commitment to recruitment, she said.“Rarely would you see your president or CEO actually come in and meet potential applicants for a residency … and I think the applicants have been very impressed by that,” Robert added.Much like what attracted the New York native to Beebe, Robert said geography and investments in new facilities has been key to recruiting the next generation of physicians. She noted that graduating students from Jamaica and Japan have visited the Lewes campus in recent weeks as they prefer for final residency selections.In western Sussex, TidalHealth rolled out an internal medicine program last year and will begin a general surgery program this year, with about 50 total residents in the system. The system has made inroads with applicants, receiving more than 2,700 applicants from around the world for its 10 annual slots, and is already making a pitch about long-term roles.“We spend a lot of time and resources on residents’ wellness, making sure that they enjoy what they’re doing and not getting burned out,” said Dr. Hameem Kawsar, who oversees the internal medicine program. “One of our residents even bought a home here, despite it being a three-year training. We hope that’s a sign they may be staying.”Dr. Simona Eng, the health system’s designated institutional official, added that TidalHealth pursued a residency program after first considering starting a medical school at its headquarters in Salisbury, Md., but a consultant determined that would be too big a lift.“We want to be able to build our pipeline,” she said. “We’re making our pitch to our residents virtually every day. Who wouldn’t want to live on the Delmarva Peninsula with the beaches, outdoors, Assateague Island, and low cost of living?”Eng said that like the neighboring health systems, TidalHealth would likely soon pursue a family medicine residency, and potentially one for anesthesiologists, a role that is also in demand. The system also just started a Core Clinical Campus, which will allow undergraduate medical students to live in market and complete their entire third-year clinical rounds requirements at TidalHealth hospitals and offices.“That gives them the opportunity to know the area but also audition the entire time. We liken it to a dating period,” Eng said, noting that she hopes it helps attract additional interest to their offices for post-grad residencies.