DOVER — With the firm assertion that the residency experience is not like what is shown on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Bayhealth representatives attended a Tuesday Kent County Levy Court meeting to tell how its Graduate Medical Education Program will increase access to health care.
“Our community is like many other communities in this country where there is an absence — a lacking, if you will — of available primary care professionals,” said William Strickland, chairman of Bayhealth’s board of directors.
In its residency program, Bayhealth offers three focuses — family medicine, internal medicine and general surgery. There currently are eight residents in family medicine and 13 in internal medicine. There will be three in general surgery. The family and internal medicine programs welcomed their first classes in August.
Introducing herself as “first and foremost ... a family doctor,” Dr. Brintha Vasagar also serves as the medical director of Bayhealth’s Family Medicine Residency Program. She provided information to the commissioners on how the training works, as well as its goal of increasing the amount of doctors practicing in lower Delaware.
“You all know, you’ve heard from everyone in this community, how difficult it is to find a doc here,” Dr. Vasagar said. “That’s in great part because we are (in) what we call a health professional shortage area.”
She said there is less than one physician for every 2,000 people in Kent and Sussex counties.
“You can imagine how difficult it is when you’re calling around trying to find an opinion (or) to find someone who has availability,” Dr. Vasagar said.
With Delaware being one of three states that doesn’t have a medical school, she said it can be hard to attract physicians.
“People like staying where they know, where they’re familiar, where they have roots, where they have experiences and people that they’ve connected with,” she said. “Without a medical school here, and we can’t really choose where people grow up, our next step was, how can we get people for their residency, so they get those experiences early in their careers and want to stay here long term?”
Dr. Vasagar said studies show that more than half of family doctors tend to stay where they train, which motivated Bayhealth to offer graduate education in Kent and Sussex counties. New Castle County, she said, does have some graduate options for doctors-in-training.
Providing information on how the process of becoming a doctor works, Dr. Vasagar said students first need to receive a four-year bachelor’s degree, followed by another four years in medical school.
Students then enter their residencies, where they train under certified physicians.
“They are capable. They have all the book knowledge, but now, we want them to get hands-on skills and see as many patients as possible, so that we trust their clinical decision-making before letting them fly out on their own,” she said.
She said the eight family-doctors-in-training will be learning how to treat patients in every walk of life.
“We deliver babies. We take care of newborns. We hold hands during end-of-life decisions, and we’re there on the inpatient side, the outpatient side,” she said. “Whatever you need.”
Dr. Joseph Deutsch, who serves as the medical director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program, called it “extremely exciting.” He said internal medicine can include primary care physicians or those based in hospitals. They also can be physicians who go on to get additional training for cardiology or cancer care, for example.
In terms of inpatient service, he said having internal medicine residents aims to help lessen the burdens on physicians. He said the pandemic caused a lot of people to push back procedures. But now that life is returning to some type of normal, he said many physicians are seeing high amounts of individuals seeking care.
“We need more (doctors),” he said. “Our physicians are being pushed, and they need reinforcement.”
Commissioner Eric Buckson shared the story of his 22-year-old daughter being unable to find a primary care physician after aging out of her pediatrician’s services. He said both his children have been using walk-in or urgent-care facilities in the absence of being able to find primary care.
Dr. Deutsch said the residency program aims to fix that.
Speaking to what the training looks like, he said it’s not like what is portrayed on TV, where residents are overworked.
“It’s not like what’s on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ It’s not like what’s on ‘House,’” he said. “It’s not even like what you might imagine.”
He said Bayhealth has put a focus on residents’ wellness — and noted that “you can only serve someone when you, yourself, are well.”
The health system also wants residents engaged in the community.
“We want them to feel like part of this community from day one. We want them to fall in love with it,” he said. “That’s what’s going to keep them here.”
Dr. Bradford Mitchell, who serves as the medical director of the General Surgery Residency Program, said he took the job because of his granddaughters, who live in Greenwood.
“They need to have access to excellent care, so that’s what I’m really committed to bring to the surgical side of this,” he said.
He added that there will only be three residents in the program at first, but all will be training in Delaware for five years.
When his program is full, Dr. Mitchell said there will be 15 residents working in Kent and Sussex counties. He said the program has started the process of selecting the initial three residents, out of a pool of a little less than 600.
Speaking to any potential fears from patients about having residents do operations versus full-fledged doctors, Dr. Mitchell said there is strict supervision in place. He said there are advanced simulations that residents will be using to mimic procedures, as well.
“I think it’s really important for everybody here and the public to understand that our residents aren’t running around like they do on the TV shows,” he said. “They do have very strict supervision and graded responsibility, but we need to have them increase their responsibility throughout their training, so that when they finish their training, they are ready to go out to Smyrna, to Milford, to Greenwood and take care of patients. That’s the goal.”