Merit Health Wesley Adds 15 to Residency Programs

July 13, 2016

When Merit Health Wesley teamed up with William Carey University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine last July to roll out a pair of residency programs with a total of four physicians, the hope was to train – and, more importantly, retain – new doctors in the state.

One short year later, the programs seem to be right on the mark, with this month’s addition of 15 physicians – nine to the Internal Medicine Program and six to the Emergency Medicine Program – bringing the total number of residents to 25.

“There were a lot of people from Mississippi and other areas who wanted to continue their training at home, but they didn’t have that option before we developed our programs, so they went out of state for training,” said Dr. Sherry Turner, who serves as director of Graduate Medical Education and the program director for the Emergency Medical Program. “We’ve had those people now come back to Mississippi and start their training here.

“So some have transferred in from another program so they can be closer to family and friends, and then be here in Mississippi where they want to practice in the end. I think that says something about the fact that we’ve opened it, and the need for it to be here.”

The Internal Medicine Program is a three-year program that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of adult diseases, while the four-year Emergency Medicine Program deals with emergency training in such areas as obstetrics, surgery, trauma and pediatrics. The residents, all of whom are Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, work with tenured physicians at the hospital to hone their skills and offer patients more comprehensive care.

“So you’re not just taken care of by a doctor – you’re taken care of by a team of doctors,” said Dr. Deepu Thoppil, who oversees the Internal Medicine Program, along with Dr. Kurt Bruckmeier. “And you get to explore more of the unusual diseases. We’ve picked up, in a short amount of time, a number of very unusual cases, because you have more than one set of eyes looking at the same problem.

“So in this group approach, I think we find that there is improvement in patient care, and we find these unusual diseases because we’re able to spend the time discussing it. You come into Wesley – I’ve never seen an institution that works so well in congress with each other.”

Since arriving July 1, the new residents have taken part in an initial orientation and jumped head-first into their training, including working shifts in the emergency room, attending lectures and studying.

“Usually, there’s one or two attending physicians who are running the entire emergency room, and basically we as residents are training under them, and we see as many patients as we can,” said emergency medicine resident Shawn Weeks, D.O., of Omaha, Nebraska. “So they’ll work with us to go over patients and see what our plan for treatment is, and what we think the possible diagnosis is.

“So I enjoy working and learning constantly, and the Hattiesburg area is great. The people are friendly, and it pretty much has anything you need in a medium-sized city.”

Internal medicine resident Anjali Bhateja, D.O,, said everyone in the program, from administration down, has been very receptive to the educational process.

“I think that makes a huge difference,” said Bhateja, a native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. “Whatever your interests are, outside of not just patient care, but anything else – they’ve allowed me to be on multiple committees here and learn hospital administration also.

“So that, I think, is invaluable in training and what I plan to do from here on out. I’m very grateful for that opportunity, and you don’t see that in a lot of places.”

The program also has been a boon to Christopher Oglesby, a student from William Carey’s School of Osteopathic Medicine who is training with the residents in the hopes of being admitted to the program next year.

“It’s in the community that I want to serve in,” said Oglesby, a native of West Monroe, Louisiana. “I really like Wesley – it’s a great program, from the attending (physicians) to the interns. Everybody’s really welcoming here, and it’s a great place, especially for someone like me who’s from the South. And I want to stay in the South, and I feel like this program exposes me to that patient population that I’m going to be encountering for the rest of my life.”

As for the future of the program, officials have plans to increase the numbers of residents currently hosted, and may even partner with other hospitals to accommodate more training physicians.

“Merit Health is a 211-bed hospital, but we have sister hospitals through the Merit Health organization in the state who have agreed, and want to help, train physicians in Mississippi,” Turner said. “So we’ll be using those to provide services. We also have an affiliation with (University of Mississippi Medical Center) to train them for trauma and pediatrics at Batson Hospital, and the VA in Biloxi has offered rotations for an internal medicine program.

“So as we move forward, our hope is to expand our ability to have residents and provide quality programs that offer a larger number of people who’d be willing to stay in the area.”