With a goal of drawing skilled primary care physicians to Sumter and improving the community's access to health care, Prisma Health has established a new family medicine residency program based at Tuomey Hospital. The program welcomed its first four physicians this summer, with the hope that they will continue to serve Sumter when they've completed the residency.
"Family medicine is the heart of health care," said Tuomey Hospital Chief Operations Officer Michelle Logan-Owens. "These physicians are the center-point for all health and healing - and there aren't enough of them."
That means patients often resort to going to the emergency room or urgent care for non-emergent health issues and don't always get the follow-up care they need.
"Sumter is embracing and investing in medical education, and that is part of growing a healthy community," said Charles Carter, M.D., director of the South Carolina Center for Rural and Primary Health Care.
"Each year, we will have four new resident physicians coming here, working alongside our veteran physicians and nursing and care teams," Logan-Owens said. "They'll be getting to know Sumter, falling in love with our community and wanting to make this their place to stay and raise their families. Our medical staff is so enthusiastic about helping to build the next generation of caregivers."
Tandem Health collaborates to train doctors
Ric Huneycutt, D.O., is one of the new resident physicians who will be treating patients at Tandem Health. He is enthusiastic about the program.
"Everything starts with family medicine," said Dr. Huneycutt. "You get to know your patients' family history, their medical history, their social history. You know pretty much everything about the patient - so when something comes up, you're the first line of defense."
Huneycutt got his medical degree in osteopathic medicine, which emphasizes a holistic, "whole body" focus that includes treating the mind, body and spirit - richly complementary to the environment of family medicine.
He said the program "will focus on preventative care, keeping patients out of the ER, out of the hospital, and working on their baseline health level to prevent diseases from progressing to the point that they need advanced care."
"Most of the preceptors (teaching physicians) have been here for years and understand the health disparities in the community," he added. "This program is going to be phenomenal, because it will teach residents how to be good family doctors."
Program Director Frederick Stone, M.D., says he is excited the residents will provide their continuity practice at Tandem Health. This will ensure they train in a community-focused practice centered on the care of the underserved. "Tandem also does a wonderful job of community outreach, and they have a wide variety of resources to help with that outreach," he said.
The other resident physicians are Bridget Peters, D.O., who also has a doctorate in kinesiology and a master's degree in education; Umer Farooq, M.D., who has a master's degree in health care and finance; and Phuong Le, D.O., with a master's degree in biomedical sciences.
Why is Family Medicine so important?
In South Carolina, 45 of 46 counties have been designated Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). The American Association of Medical Colleges projects a physician shortfall of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians nationwide by 2030.
The Prisma Health-Midlands Family Medicine Residency Program based in Sumter is designed to train physicians who are specifically interested in careers as primary care providers in an area where access to medical care is limited. The program emphasizes full-breadth family medicine and care for the underserved.
The diverse patient population in Sumter and at Tandem Health offers broad exposure to all ages.
"We think it's important to participate in a program that brings family practice physicians to our area," said Paula Stover, who leads clinical operations for Tandem Health. "We believe it will provide greater continuity of care," which can improve the health of the overall community.
"For example," she said, "if the residents see patients at the hospital who do not have a primary care provider, they can encourage the patients to follow up at Tandem Health, which would help reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and inappropriate visits to the emergency room."
This would complement the care program already established at the health center, where a nurse follows patients after they are discharged from Tuomey or have visited the ER. This clinician visits those who have the greatest risk factors and can guide them into primary care, reconcile their medications and eliminate transportation barriers.
"This will be mutually beneficial to our patients, the residents and the community," Stover added.
What is medical residency?
After completing four years of medical school and earning a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathy degree, physicians must spend a required number of years in residency training in the specialty they choose, ranging from one to seven years based on the specialty. Once the graduate is accepted into a residency program, the licensing process begins in the state where he or she will complete residency to enable them to participate in supervised patient care before being qualified for independent practice.
For more information about the Family Medicine Residency Program, contact Shannon Mewborn at Shannon.Mewborn@PrismaHealth.org or call 803-774-9755.
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