GRAND RAPIDS — In a move to build a broader talent pool for future candidates, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital began a medical residency program this summer to help groom new doctors specializing in treating patients with traumatic injuries.
The Grand Rapids-based rehabilitation hospital will sponsor four second-year medical residents annually and has the capacity to host up to 12 at a given time.
When the medical residents complete their three-year residencies, Mary Free Bed hopes to retain them to work at its Grand Rapids rehab hospital or within its regional care network of 31 hospitals across Michigan.
“We would like to be a source for physicians not only that we need locally, but also throughout our network in Michigan and beyond,” said Dr. Mike Jakubowski, chief medical officer at Mary Free Bed. “It’s like planting a flag for what we would say is a deep institutional commitment to the future of rehabilitative medicine.”
The four medical residents who joined Mary Free Bed in July came from Touro University California in Vallejo, Calif.; St. George’s University in Grenada, West Indies; Michigan State University in East Lansing; and the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan.
For years, Mary Free Bed has hosted medical residents who were sponsored by other health systems in West Michigan and served for a short period at the rehab hospital during their rotations. By forming its own residency program, Mary Free Bed seeks to introduce new doctors to rehabilitative medicine with the hopes they will enter the field.
“Historically, there just hasn’t been enough physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians,” Jakubowski said. “We feel our mission is served also by creating the clinicians who are going to do this in the next generation.”
The new Mary Free Bed program adds to the medical residencies in West Michigan sponsored by a number of acute-care hospitals and health care providers that include Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, which started a program three years ago. The inaugural class is now entering its fourth year at the Grand Rapids-based Pine Rest, which has used medical residents to extend access to behavioral health care.
One outcome: Wait times for an outpatient appointment at Pine Rest have been cut in half in just three years, said Dr. Bill Sanders. Typically, outpatients now can get an appointment within a week or two, “which was just unheard of a few years ago” because of a provider shortage, said Sanders, a psychiatrist and residency program director at Pine Rest.
Today, Pine Rest has 35 residents working across all of its areas of care: inpatient, partial hospitalization, outpatient, and community and residential services. Sanders estimates that over three years, the medical residency program resulted in 1,000 outpatients receiving care who might not have been seen otherwise.
Once the current fourth-year senior residents are done next year, Pine Rest hopes to keep them in West Michigan, either as staff members or practicing elsewhere. To that end, Pine Rest actively works to get its residents involved in the community during their time in West Michigan, including through volunteer work at schools.
“If you’re going to retain people, you have to connect them with the area,” said Kelly Blankenship, director of the child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship program at Pine Rest.
The behavioral health care provider recently added a two-year child and adolescent fellowship to increase services for children, adolescents and young adults. The fellowship positions coincide with the June opening of a 26-bed inpatient unit for adolescents and young adults.
West Michigan has about 20 job openings for psychiatrists, he said. The 2017 HealthCheck report published by Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business estimates that employment of psychiatrists in a four-county region will grow 6.5 percent to 660 positions over the period from 2014 to 2024.
Pine Rest wants to expand the use of residents as well as fellowships. Geriatric and addiction fellowships are in the works for 2018 and other specialty practices may follow.
While sponsoring a medical residency program can aid in access and talent recruitment for sponsors, the organizations enjoy peripheral benefits as well. Residents just out of medical schools bring with them the latest techniques and advancements, plus a willingness to challenge the status quo.
“You have to justify everything you say,” Blankenship said. “It makes everybody better.”
The environment that comes with teaching hospitals that sponsor medical residents “might not even be a planned benefit, but it is clearly a huge benefit,” said Mary Free Bed’s Jakubowski.
“Even the things that make lots of sense, are very rational and that we know work, when a resident comes in and says, ‘Well, why are you doing that? What study shows that’s more effective than this?’ — you really have to defend what you do,” he said. “I think it’s very helpful for the intellectual climate in medicine in general to have smart students coming in and wanting you to not just speak from on high but ‘show me the evidence that this works better.’”