In my last column, I wrote about the impending national physician crisis, which appears likely to hit already-underserved Kitsap County –designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area- particularly hard. This week, I want to share information about a new program that can help Kitsap County buck the trend by bringing a whole crop of enthusiastic young physicians to our area. It’s called the Northwest Washington Family Medicine Residency Program.

Thanks to years of hard work and dedication by the team at CHI/Franciscan/Harrison, who spearheaded the arduous process of getting the new residency accredited, the program debuted in July with eight talented young doctors who will spend the next three years training under local physicians. *

The program represents a golden opportunity for our community on several fronts. Firstly, it means potentially anchoring numerous newly minted doctors in Kitsap County. Studies show that doctors are likely to remain in the area where they do their residency training. Almost 20 percent of family practice residents go on to practice within 5 miles of where they were trained; nearly 40 percent practice within 25 miles; and the majority practice within 100 miles of their training location.

As community members, we should each do our part to help convince these young doctors to stay in Kitsap County. Residency is a time where physicians literally eat, sleep, and breathe medicine. Residents routinely pull 24- or even 36-hour-long shifts. Exhaustion becomes a way of life. And with it, doubt often creeps in, with many sleep-deprived young physicians beset by worries that they made a terrible mistake in choosing medical school. A warm gesture can brighten the day for any tired and hungry young resident. Even something as seemingly small as a gift of cookies or a homemade meal delivered in a Tupperware can mean the difference between finishing a residency program or giving up –and also, potentially, between ultimately staying in Kitsap County or moving on to greener pastures.

But the residency is not only a potential panacea for our area’s looming physician shortage. It’s also a great opportunity for veteran physicians, like me.

Residency is an integral part of medical training in the United States. In order to practice, medical school graduates must not only pass a series of grueling exams but also complete an accredited three-year residency program. That fact speaks volumes about our concept of how medicine is best learned – and taught. Because residencies are not only about helping prepare the next generation of doctors; they’re also about ensuring seasoned physicians maintain their skills.

There’s a saying in Latin encapsulating the philosophy: “Docendo Discimus,” or, “By teaching, we learn.” Great doctors are not born, they’re trained –initially by more experienced doctors and then, through the very act of training recent graduates. The notion of lifelong learning is essential to the practice of medicine and as such, it mustn’t be overlooked.

As a pediatrician who was born and raised locally, I’ve had the honor and privilege of mentoring by many legendary local physicians throughout my career, some taking me under their wing when I was merely five years old.

The Northwest Family Medicine Residency Program is my chance to give back. I signed up to teach residents, and although it represents another commitment in my already-busy day, I’m proud to be a part of this program. Not only am I helping assure that my children and, hopefully, their children will have access to quality healthcare in the area, I’m upping my own game through the act of teaching and therefore, continually learning more myself.

Please ask your doctors if they’re collaborating with the family medicine residency and if not, encourage them to actively take part. Supporting the Northwest Washington Family Medicine Residency Program, as a physician mentor or a patient, is the best solution to offset the physician shortage.

Finally, if any of you should cross paths with one of these eight hard-working residents, remember that kindness begets compassion, compassion fosters empathy, and caring for our fellow human beings is best learned by example.

Docendo Discimus: By teaching, we will all learn.

* This year’s residents are: Jonathan Amkraut, MD; Justin Carlson, MD; Neel Chheda, DO; Casey Kernan, DO; So Lee, DO; John Rambo, MD; Khuyen Tran, DO; and Jacob Van Fleet, MD. They represent a bright future for healthcare in our community and we should feel lucky to have them.

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