LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett Medical Center is moving forward with a program that could pay big dividends as the county stares down a shortage of physicians.
The hospital announced this week the hiring of Dr. Mark Darrow as the director of its upcoming graduate medical education (GME) program -- the process everyday folks would know as "residency" for new graduates of med school. It's the latest step toward the ultimate goal of feeding doctors directly into the Gwinnett area.
"I believe we'll be very successful in this hospital system and this community, and also be successful in attracting folks who will stay in this area," Darrow said. "This is really going to work. This is a community that's ready to do this."
GMC officials plan to have residency programs in internal and family medicine up and running by July 2014. The goal, Darrow said, is to have five residents per program per year over the first three years. That would mean that, beginning in 2017, an average of 10 newly trained physicians would be released into the workforce each year.
It's a start toward solving the riddle presented by projections that Georgia will fall some 5,000 doctors short of demand by the year 2030, a grim prospect that Gwinnett's future is not immune to.
Jann Moore, the Gwinnett Chamber's vice president of public policy and education, said studies have been completed more locally and that more doctors are "an obvious need."
Thomas Shepherd, Gwinnett Medical's senior vice president for planning and development, echoed the sentiment.
"Several years ago we actually did a study here in our community on physician workforce to see where we were missing some opportunities," Shepherd said. "We discovered during that time that there would be quite a deficit of primary care physicians."
A survey of 2011 GME program graduates by the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce showed that more than 40 percent had practice plans within 60 miles of their residency training program. More than 27 percent planned to stay in the same city or county.
"Where they train is where they want to come back to," Shepherd said. "Face it, they're already spending a lot of time there."
In Georgia (and Gwinnett), that could be considered a problem.
Data compiled by the Association of American Medical Colleges put Georgia as the 41st-ranked state in the country in terms of number of resident physicians per 100,000 population. Georgia's rate of 20 residents per 100,000 -- a total of about 2,300 for the 2011-12 school year -- is well short of the national average of 35.8.
The state would need to add more than 1,500 residency positions this year to meet the national average.
Gwinnett Medical Center isn't going to solve the whole issue by itself, but it's trying.
"What the public will see eventually is more primary care access in this community," Shepherd said. "That's really our whole purpose for doing this, long term."
Darrow, a physician with a long history in primary care who was most recently vice president for graduate medical education at New Hanover Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., officially began his role at GMC on Monday. He said his first steps will be finding other directors, coordinators and instructors. There is a lot of accreditation and red tape to be sifted through before residents start walking the halls of Gwinnett Medical, but officials believe it will be worth it.
Especially in the long run.
Said Moore: "There's a ripple effect from an economics standpoint when you are able to retain those physicians."