With the goal of addressing a shortage of physicians in the River Valley, Mercy Fort Smith is preparing to welcome the first members of its new internal medicine and family medicine residency programs in collaboration with the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education.
Set to begin July 1, the residency programs are a first for Mercy Fort Smith and present an opportunity to bring additional primary care and hospital-based physicians to the area. A $1.3 million donation from ACHE with the assistance of the Degen Foundation is funding the programs.
The joint effort provides for the addition of new graduate medical education programs, with the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine acting as the sponsoring institution. The residency programs recently were accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
The investment in the residents at Mercy is also an investment in the community it serves, said Dr. Paul Bean, chief of medical affairs at Mercy Fort Smith. The programs help address the needs of the community and the critical shortage of physicians in Arkansas, he said.
“Mercy's commitment to medical education helps support our ministry and our dedication to providing quality care throughout the community,” Dr. Bean said. “By rotating throughout the specialties we offer at Mercy Fort Smith, residents can experience a varied patient population while they train on state-of-the-art technology and units staffed for specialized care.”
Participants in the residency programs will be rotating through almost all specialties throughout Mercy Fort Smith, Dr. Bean continued. Residents will work in a variety of settings, including inpatient services in the hospitals and outpatient care in the clinics, among others, rotating to a new specialty every four weeks. Specialties include cardiology, orthopedics, women’s health, surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry and many other medical and procedural sub-specialties.
Mercy is excited to have the opportunity to begin to train its own residents to develop them into good physicians, Dr. Bean added. Patients will be seen by the residents, followed by Mercy’s board-certified physicians who will oversee the care that’s being provided.
The programs’ goal is to help retain doctors in the River Valley while boosting Mercy’s staffing numbers. Across the U.S., the shortage of physicians could reach 120,000 by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Arkansas ranks eighth on the list of states for primary care physician need as cases of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease continue to rise.
According to the National Center for Rural Health Works, each primary care physician who sets up a private medical practice brings a projected $1.8 million to the community being served.
“With the significant physician shortage in our community, a new graduate medical program will help us to grow our own, said John Sealey, DO, associate dean of clinical medicine at ARCOM. Statistics indicate that 75 percent of individuals who study and then train in a location will stay in that area. These new physicians tend to be young and at a point where they are planting roots. This gives us at least seven years, with medical school and residency, to recruit them to make Fort Smith their home.”
Rance McClain, DO, dean of ARCOM, added that the medical college is excited to take the next step forward in educating the next generation of physicians for Fort Smith.
“Partnering with Mercy Hospital Fort Smith to provide and support graduate medical education will help both organizations fulfill their respective missions,” McClain said. “A major factor in where a physician decides to practice medicine is the location of their residency training. We feel this partnership will help provide compassionate care and exceptional service for the citizens of our region for generations to come.”
Mercy has been developing the residency programs for several years, said Steve Gebhart, vice president of operations at Mercy Fort Smith. The programs’ first graduating class will be in June 2024. The residencies ultimately will include 48 residents working throughout the hospital and clinic locations in the Fort Smith area if all eight positions are filled within each program every year, he said.
Dr. Delilah Easom will lead the Internal Medicine Residency Program. She is a board-certified internal medicine physician who completed her residency at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She joined Mercy Hospital Fort Smith in 2003, leading the hospitalist group as medical director from 2004-15 and has currently led Mercy Fort Smith’s Wound Care Services as medical director since 2013. Dr. Easom’s clinical practice is at Mercy Hyperbaric and Wound Care – Fort Smith.
Dr. Sean Baker will serve as program director for the Family Medicine Residency Program. He is a board-certified family medicine physician who completed his residency at Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. He joined Mercy Clinic Fort Smith in 2008 and has led Mercy Clinic Fort Smith Primary Care as the department chair since 2013. Dr. Baker is the current president of the Arkansas Osteopathic Medical Association and serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Oklahoma Army National Guard. Dr. Baker’s clinical practice is at Mercy Clinic Primary Care – Dallas Street.
Mercy, one of the 25 largest U.S. health systems and named the top large system in the U.S. for excellent patient experience by NRC Health, serves millions annually with nationally recognized quality care and one of the nation’s largest Accountable Care Organizations. Mercy is a highly integrated, multi-state health care system including more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, convenient and urgent care locations, imaging centers and pharmacies. Mercy has 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 4,000 Mercy Clinic physicians and advanced practitioners, and more than 40,000 co-workers serving patients and families across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) is a private, not-for-profit institution located on 573 acres in Fort Smith, Arkansas. ACHE’s first college, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) is set to graduate its inaugural class of 145 osteopathic medical students on May 15, 2021. ACHE opened its second building, a 66,000 square foot facility that will be the home to developing programs: The School of Physical Therapy and the School of Occupational Therapy. ACHE School of Physical Therapy will welcome its first class in June 2021. ACHE recently announced the purchase of the ACHE Research Institute Health & Wellness Center, a 317,850 square foot facility that will contain a biomedical research laboratory and space for transformational initiatives in Art, Nutrition, and Wellness. ACHE is the first and only private institution in Arkansas that is dedicated solely to healthcare and wellness. For more information about the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education and our programs, visit www.acheedu.org