Athens hospital plans medical resident programs

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ATHENS, Ga. -- After years of study, St. Mary’s Health Care System will begin planning for a graduate medical education program, or residencies, at its Athens hospital, administrators have announced.

“We feel it is an important part of St. Mary’s mission to help prepare the next generation of doctors and make it attractive for them to practice here in the communities we serve,” said Charlie Upchurch, chairman of the system’s board of directors, in a news release.

Physicians typically spend three or more years in resident training at hospitals or other medical facilities after graduating from medical school.

The St. Mary’s board has not yet set a timetable, and administrators don’t yet know how many residencies the hospital will work toward creating, or in what medical specialties those residencies might be, said Mark Ralston, a spokesman for St. Mary’s.

Those decisions will depend partly on how much financial help the hospital can get from the state or other sources, and on what plans other area hospitals develop for medical residencies, working with the Georgia Health Sciences University-University of Georgia Medical Partnership in Athens, Ralston said. Some of St. Mary’s strongest programs are in internal medicine, joint replacement and other aspects of orthopedics, and neurosciences, including stroke care.

The GHSU-UGA partnership enrolled its first 40 students in 2010, added another 40 last fall and will enroll about 40 more this fall.

The Athens Regional Medical Center board of trustees may vote on whether to create a medical residency program as soon as this month, ARMC officials said last month. ARMC administrators identified family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology and internal medicine as areas in which they might pursue residencies.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville has also discussed establishing a residency program with the Athens medical partnership.

Gov. Nathan Deal set aside $1.2 million to help plan new residency programs in what Deal said is a multi-year program designed to create 400 new residencies in the state.

At least at first, the state planning money will be aimed at creating residency programs for general surgeons, for primary-care doctors and other types of specialties in short supply in the state. St. Mary’s will apply to receive planning funds from the state program.

The St. Mary’s residency program will not only help fill Georgia’s shortage of physicians, but help recruit more physicians to the Athens area, Upchurch said.

Only about a third of new medical school graduates stay in the state where they graduated from medical school, but a much higher percentage of graduates stay on in the area where they complete medical residency.


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