A new generation of family doctors will begin training next year in Richland.
The Kadlec Family Medicine Residency Program is launching after years of planning and the recent successful completion of a rigorous accreditation process.
It's the first residency program for the Richland hospital and among only a few family medicine residency opportunities in Eastern Washington.
"Earning this accreditation is great news for our community," said Rand Wortman, president and chief executive officer of Kadlec Health System. "...There is a vital need for more family practice doctors in rural areas of our state, and anything Kadlec can do to help meet that need is well worth our time and effort."
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The program will have 18 residents when fully mature after three years, starting with a class of six first-year residents in the summer of 2015 and adding a class each year until it's at full strength.
A residency is an intensive, hands-on training period that comes after medical school. Doctors must complete a residency to be board certified.
Kadlec's residents will work rotations in several different specialties -- from internal medicine to pediatrics -- and care for their own patients in a clinic setting. They'll be guided by faculty physicians.
Dr. Erick Isaacson, Kadlec's family medicine residency program director, said the residents won't be the only ones gaining from the program.
"When you get involved in education, you stay sharper yourself. It keeps the medical community sort of on the (cutting) edge," he said.
The residency program is part of the University of Washington Family Medicine Residency Network, made up of similar programs in the five-state region of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
The network has been "instrumental in sharing policies, curriculum and providing guidance," said Amy Carrasco, director of graduate medical education for Kadlec.
Kadlec's residency program will help address a need for more residency slots -- and more physicians.
Nationwide, a physician shortage looms, brought on by factors including an aging population and expanded access to health care.
While more medical schools and medical school slots have opened, residency offerings haven't kept pace.
Last year, 500 medical school graduates couldn't get into a residency in the U.S. because there weren't enough slots, according to information from Kadlec. This year, the number was 700.
The eastern and central parts of Washington in particular have a dearth of residency slots.
While the west side has 29.8 physician residents per 100,000 population, central and eastern Washington have 6.8, according to information from Kadlec.
The national rate is 35.7 per 100,000 population, the information said.
The new Kadlec residency program " is a really good thing that is going to support Eastern Washington particularly. It's difficult to develop residencies, and the team that put this together should be acknowledged for their good work," said Dr. John McCarthy, who's offered guidance as Kadlec formed its program.
He's an assistant clinical dean for the University of Washington School of Medicine and also teaches at Washington State University Spokane and is on the faculty of a family medicine residency program in Spokane.
Dr. Judith Pauwels, an associate professor in the University of Washington's Department of Family Medicine, who helps developing residency programs, noted that physicians are likely to settle near where they train -- especially where they complete their residency.
"(Kadlec's residency program) is a good conduit for getting primary care physicians to your community," she said. "To develop a full new program in Richland is very, very exciting. This is a huge step. They've been highly committed. They've worked incredibly hard on this."
While Kadlec's family medicine residency program is a first for the hospital, Kadlec long has helped students on their paths to health care careers. On average, Kadlec welcomes 175 students a month -- from high school students to those pursuing degrees in nursing, medicine and other clinical professions -- for rotations and hands-on experience.
Kadlec learned last month that its family medicine residency program was awarded accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
The Kadlec program will be able to accept residents with either medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degrees.
Trios Health in Kennewick recently started its own osteopathic residency program, welcoming three first-year residents last summer -- two in family medicine and one in internal medicine.
Kadlec expects to expand its residency offerings to more specialties in the future. Officials will interview fourth-year medical students this fall for its family medicine residency spots, with matches made next March.
The first residents will start in July 2015.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald