Mount Nittany, Penn State launch local medical residency program

Penn State Hershey medical students Jessica Hartley, left, and Brittney Hacken talk with doctors Ryan Ridenour, left, and Tom Covaleski at Mount Nittany Medical Center on Thursday. The hospital will begin offering a residency program in 2015.
Penn State Hershey medical students Jessica Hartley, left, and Brittney Hacken talk with doctors Ryan Ridenour, left, and Tom Covaleski at Mount Nittany Medical Center on Thursday. The hospital will begin offering a residency program in 2015. CDT photo

Each March, medical students around the country pack into a room on their campuses and are handed a white envelope that will reveal where they’ll spend the next several years of their life.

At the ritual, called match day, they open up the envelope to find a piece of paper that contains the location where they will complete their residency.

A year from now, for the first time, Mount Nittany Medical Center will show up as a residency destination for six medical students.

Penn State’s College of Medicine and the Mount Nittany Medical Center have teamed up to offer a residency program in State College to focus on family medicine, or comprehensive care for people of all ages.

Officials from both the university and the hospital championed it as way to expand local residents’ access to physicians for their primary care at a time that the area is underserved. The residency program got the green light after its accreditation was approved last week.

“Having a residency program here in family practice through the Penn State College of Medicine allows us to grow our primary care physicians in this community for this community, because residents tend to stay where they’ve received their training,” said Steve Brown, CEO and president of Mount Nittany Health. “This is something that we’re partnering up between the two organizations to bring to this community to help it a little bit relieve that shortage of primary care physicians so that we can continue to provide the best health care possible in the Centre Region.”

The program is also an expansion of the footprint in State College for the College of Medicine, which is based in Hershey.

In 2011, the college opened the University Park Regional Campus, using the hospital and other sites in the area to train third- and fourth-year medical students.

A $2.5 million grant from the state will provide additional support for the costs of running the residency program, said Kevin Black, the vice dean of the local campus.

Black said that initial plans for the money include a housing subsidy for the residents, scholarships, improving their work space and installing technology to allow them to better connect with the Hershey campus.

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, secured the funding.

Brown referred to statistics that predict a nationwide shortage of as many as 47,000 physicians by 2020.

Locally, there are 27 doctors with Mount Nittany’s physician group and 16 with Penn State’s College of Medicine.

“I believe there will be communities in this country that will not have good access to good primary care, and I believe we’re investing in making sure that doesn’t happen here,” he said.

The residency program will be under the direction of Joseph Wiedemer, a doctor on the college’s faculty who will begin recruiting for the first group to start in July 2015.

Some of the qualities his recruiting team will seek in candidates include the ability to be leaders and understanding the importance of a patient’s need for medical care and the core values of family medicine.

They must also be willing to be pioneers, he said, as the residents will be the first to participate in the program.

The program will last three years. Once the program has a group for each of the three years, there will be 18 residents in the program.

The first year will focus on a generalized curriculum of family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, critical care and pediatrics. First-years also will spend time working in outpatient care, though that will be limited.

The second and third years of the program consist of specialty training and more time in outpatient clinics.

Third-year residents can move into other options, such as research, an additional degree at Penn State — such as a master’s of business administration if they plan to open their own practice — or a rural emphasis, which will have them doing rotations in the area.

None of the graduates this year can opt for the family medicine program, because it won’t open until next summer.

Eugene Marsh, a neurologist and associate dean of the local campus, said he hopes current Hershey medical students who want to practice family medicine will apply for residency in the program here.

He came to Penn State from an administrative position with the University of Alabama’s medical school regional campus in Tuscaloosa.

Marsh said he expects the family medicine residents who come to State College to be involved in the local community. They’ll give talks and presentations, and volunteer in the community.

Brown said that staff physicians at Mount Nittany will be part of the residency program. In addition, the College of Medicine will hire a faculty member for the program, Wiedemer said.