GREENFIELD — After years of preparation, the first five physicians in Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s new family medicine residency program are beginning to familiarize themselves with the needs of the community.
“It’s nice to come in and say, ‘What do you need?’ so we can meet their needs,” said Dr. Mmaserame Gaefele, a Williams College alumna and sophomore who completed her first year of residency in Philadelphia. “Once you establish traditions, it’s hard to break them. is really nice to be in a place where we can learn a lot and also work with the community.”
Residents will spend three years in the program, according to Dr. Robert Baldor, founding chairman and professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School-Baystate Department of Family Medicine. Not only will they work out of Baystate Franklin’s primary care practice in Sanderson St. 48, under the direction of doctors and professors, and see patients regularly, but they’ll also practice at the hospital across the street.
The program was launched after a $4.2 million renovation project that created a new teaching space as well as new offices for residents and faculty.
“This program, more than others, was really focused on creating well-rounded outpatient caregivers,” said Dr. Rachel Anderson, who began her residency after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. “I think that spoke to my passion, and the passion of my fellow residents, of preventive care and reaching patients before they’re in the hospital, before they’re sick, and doing everything we can to keep people healthy.”
The residency program launch comes as the area continues to struggle with a shortage of primary care providers. According to the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, Franklin County had a patient-to-provider ratio of 1,280-to-1 in 2019; by 2022, that ratio had risen to 1,530-to-1. In comparison, the state average in 2022 is 960-to-1. The hope with Baystate Franklin’s program is to preserve the residents who pass through it.
“We’ve talked very candidly about our interests in staying in the area,” said Dr. Dan Albrecht, a resident of Holyoke. “That’s what the data says about where people train. They tend to stay there. I think for this program it will be no different, if not more true.”
Likewise, said Dr. Bradford Ferrick, who grew up in eastern Massachusetts and attended medical school in New York, that the idea of practicing locally after his residency appealed to him.
“I think it’s a fantastic area,” he said, adding that the drive home to visit family is “definitely better than” the drive he took when he went to school in New York.
Each of the residents, while coming from different programs in the Northeast, expressed a similar passion for preventive care.
“In primary care, keeping people out of the hospital is a challenging but rewarding endeavor,” says Dr. John Romano, who also recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. “I think that’s something that a lot of us are passionate about — the idea that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Albrecht echoed Romano’s sentiment.
“Family medicine is … such an important subspecialty because it offers the opportunity to intervene before a problem becomes really acute,” Albrecht said. “If we, as a country, paid more attention to our preventive care, we could address some of the problematic health outcomes that drive the disparity between the US and the outcomes often referenced in some European countries.”
Part of the work of the five residents — which they have already begun through meetings with community members and local officials — will be to better understand the area’s “unique set of challenges.” During their first week of their stay, the five residents traveled through the county, meeting jurors, city officials, local doctors and other community members.
“It says a lot about the priorities of the program,” Albrecht said. “We’ve spent a lot of time this month learning medicine, but there’s a really special commitment to understanding the nuances of the communities of the Western Mass and how we can best serve them as residents, but hopefully as (the attending doctors) too.”
To be part of the first group of residents was a “great opportunity,” Ferrick noted.
“Residency programs don’t just pop up every year,” Ferrick said. “It is certainly a great honour, a lot of responsibility.”
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at email@example.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.