“This is a great day for the McAlester Regional Health Center and it’s a greater day for Southeastern Oklahoma,” MRHC Chief Executive Officer David Keith said Wednesday as he announced the McAlester hospital’s new venture with Oklahoma State University.
The venture includes a program calling for the OSU Center for Health Sciences to establish a regular medical residency program at the McAlester hospital for individuals who have already earned a medical degree, but who will practice medicine for three years under the supervision of a licensed physician as part of a graduate program.
Medical residences are designed to give new physicians in-depth training in a particular branch of medicine, adding practical experience to what they learned in medical school.
In addition to the residencies, the venture with OSU will result in more regular medical students coming to the McAlester hospital before graduation.
Although the new physicians will not be required to stay in McAlester after completing their medical residencies at MRHC, those planning the program hope many will decide to do so.
Keith spoke to a group of community leaders, educators, medical personal and guests who had gathered for the announcement at the McAlester hospital Wednesday afternoon.
They included two representatives from the OSU Center for Health Sciences: Dr. William J. Pettit, associate dean for rural health at the OSU Center for Rural Health in Tulsa, and Jeffrey J. LeBoeuf, executive director of the Osteopathic Medical Education Consortium of Oklahoma.
Referring to new physicians, Pettit said, “It’s one thing to get them to come to your community.” It’s another thing to get them to stay here and prosper, he added — a reference to how the new venture should enhance that possibility.
LeBoeuf referred to the venture’s origins, when Keith and Dr. Leroy Milton, of the MRHC Board of Trustees, first visited the OSU representatives.
“When Mr. Keith and Dr. Milton came to see us, they said they really wanted this to be a teaching facility,” LeBoeuf said.
It’s not feasible to expect medical residents trained in inner city hospitals to want to come to a rural area, although it does occasionally happen, said LeBoeuf.
He said the program will initially include nine physicians in internal medicine and nine physicians in family practice.
Although they will have medical degrees, they are also required to complete the residencies under the supervision of a licensed physician before they can set up their own practice.
Also, more medical students should start coming to the facility by next July, he said.
“Oklahoma State is not going away,” LeBoeuf said, referring to OSU’s commitment to the program at the McAlester hospital.
Keith lauded members of the hospital’s executive team.
“I’m very proud of the executive team we have here at the hospital,” Keith said, adding that the real credit should go to MRHC Chief Financial Officer Melissa Walker and Helen Wheeler, the hospital’s vice president of Strategy and Business Development.
Dr. Ronald Tanner, a family practice physician who is double board-certified in emergency medicine and family medicine, will be working to help get the OSU program started at the McAlester hospital.
“He will be busy initiating the program,” Keith said.
Speaking with the News-Capital following Keith’s announcement, Tanner said a number of different types of medical students will receive training at the McAlester hospital.
In addition to those with medical degrees in the residency program, others will include students training to become physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
LeBoeuf spoke of the next steps.
“Right now, we’re in the recruiting phase,” he said. “They will begin on July 1st.”
From OSU’s viewpoint, the new arrangement means MRHC “is a member of our consortium,” he said. It will join other facilities, among them facilities in Durant, Tahlequah, Talihina, Enid and Oklahoma City, he said.
Internal medicine and family practice includes three-year training programs, so MRHC will be granting six residences a year, according to LeBoeuf.
In three years, three physicians from both those programs should graduate fully-trained, he said. Following the first group of graduates, there should be six fully-trained physicians graduating annually.
“Every year, you have six fully-trained physicians graduating,” LeBoeuf said — which leads to the hope that many of them will choose to stay in McAlester.
Several of those attending the announcement spoke of their enthusiasm for the venture.
“We’re so pleased to be involved with the residency program,” said MRHC Trust Authority Chairman Cara Bland.
News-Capital Publisher Amy Johns also reacted to the plans.
“This is amazing news for our community,” not only for the health and well-being of individuals in the area, but also for its economic impact, Johns said.
“These people will eat at our restaurants, shop at our stores and go to the movies. This will be an economic boon for our community.”
McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison reacted to the announcement.
“It’s not just McAlester Regional Health Center, it’s a big day for this city and it’s big day for this region,” Harrison said.
“We’re looking forward to the influx we’ll have here. Hopefully, they will decide this will be a good place to set up their practice,” Harrison said, referring to those physicians who complete their medical residencies at MRHC.
Wheeler also had some thoughts.
“I think it’s a great day for McAlester,” she said.
“It’s a great way to show our community what you can become. We can let our young people know they can dream big, train in McAlester, and have a direct impact on lives in Southeastern Oklahoma.”
Keith also expressed his enthusiasm.
“This is a day of celebration,” he said.
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