Area hospitals to get boost from FAU program

Three South Florida hospitals for the first time will get dozens of new doctors in training, as Florida Atlantic University debuts its new physician residency program.

The 36 recent medical school graduates are expected to help ease a resident shortage and an anticipated physician shortage in the coming years, FAU officials said. About a quarter of Florida's physicians are over age 65, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

These young doctors, as well as their supervising faculty, will help transform three community hospitals – Boca Raton Regional Medical Center, Delray Medical Center and Bethesda West near Boynton Beach – into academic teaching hospitals.

"I think it's going to be an incredible benefit to the community to have well-trained physicians being developed from the community," said Dr. Bernardo Obeso, director of the FAU program. "They will learn the culture of the community and in the end will improve the quality of care and safety throughout the area."


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In addition to serving hospital patients, the residents will provide primary care at two new FAU outpatient clinics that will be established at Boca Raton Regional and Bethesda West. They'll also conduct wellness programs within the community, Obeso said.

Even though the physicians will all be based in Palm Beach County, Broward County is likely to benefit as well.

"Most people live and work throughout the area. Nobody limits themselves these days to one or two zip codes," said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association.

The students will arrive June 23 for training and start work July 1. While they come from all over the world, 39 percent have Florida roots, officials said.

The residency program is the second major part of the FAU College of Medicine's physician education program. The medical school opened in 2011 with 64 students. Those students won't be eligible to be residents until they graduate next year.

Its first class of 64 students won't graduate until 2015, so they weren't eligible.

Within three years, the number of physicians in FAU's new internal medicine residency program is expected to grow to 96. The university hopes to have 400 within five years, serving at the three hospitals as well as St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach and West Boca Medical Center.

FAU is waiting on approval from its accrediting body on a surgical residency and is developing programs in emergency medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics and possibly others, said Dr. David Bjorkman, dean of the FAU College of Medicine.

Where a physician conducts a residency tends to be a bigger predictor of where physicians eventually settle than where they attend medical school, Quick said.

"There is a higher probability of establishing roots, making friends, colleagues, buying a condo or house, finding a partner during that time in one's life than you do during medical school when you're immersed 24-7 in classroom and work situations," she said.

The college medical association said 47 percent of doctors set up their practices where they've completed their residency.

Boca Raton Regional will get more than half of the new residents. The hospital has been trying to transition into a teaching hospital for the past seven years. It proposed in 2007 to build a new hospital on FAU's campus but later backed out due to financial concerns.

Dr. Charles Posternack, chief medical officer at Boca Raton Regional, said the physician trainees will help bring patient care to a new level. He said academic medical centers perform research that benefits patients locally and around the world. The hospitals become a magnet to physicians, he said.

"Having an academic medical center allows you to recruit the best physicians in the world," he said. "High powered research physicians tend to gravitate toward academic medical centers."

The new physicians will be regularly connected to FAU's Boca Raton campus through conferencing and virtual classrooms, officials said. They will use the FAU Medical Simulation Centers in Boca Raton and West Palm Beach to learn about high risk procedures.

Residencies are required training for medical school graduates but Florida trails other states in the number available.

Florida had about 3,600 physicians in training in 2011, or 19 per 100,000 population, placing the state 42nd in the nation. In comparison, New York has 82 medical residents and Massachusetts 84 per 100,000 population.

Hospitals with established programs include Broward Health in Fort Lauderdale, Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Jackson Memorial in Miami and JFK Hospital in Palm Beach County.

Staff writer Marcia Heroux Pounds contributed to this report.

stravis@tribune.com or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421