GREENFIELD — After years in the making, the first five doctors 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 be like, ‘What do you guys need?’ so we can meet their needs,” said Dr. Mmaserame Gaefele, a Williams College alumna and second-year resident who completed her first year of residency in Philadelphia. “Once you have traditions set in place, it’s hard to break them. It’s really nice being in a place where we can learn a whole lot, and also work with the community.”
Residents will spend three years in the program, according to Dr. Robert Baldor, founding chair and professor for the University of Massachusetts Medical School-Baystate Department of Family Medicine. They will not only work out of Baystate Franklin’s family medical practice at 48 Sanderson St. under doctors’ and professors’ guidance, seeing patients on a regular basis, but they will also practice within the hospital across the street.
The program was launched following a $4.2 million renovation project that created a new teaching space, as well as new offices for the residents and faculty.
“This program, more than others, really focused on creating well-rounded outpatient providers,” 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 co-residents, of preventative care and getting to patients before they’re in the hospital, before they’re sick, and doing everything we can to keep people healthy.”
The launch of the residency program 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; in 2022, that ratio had increased to 1,530-to-1. By comparison, the state average in 2022 is 960-to-1. The hope with Baystate Franklin’s program is to retain the residents who go through it.
“We’ve talked very frankly about our interests in staying in the area,” said Dr. Dan Albrecht, a Holyoke native. “That’s what the data says about where people train. They tend to stay there. I think it will be no different, if not more true, for this program.”
Likewise, Dr. Bradford Ferrick, who grew up in eastern Massachusetts and went to medical school in New York, said 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 “certainly beats” the drive he made when attending school in New York.
Each of the residents, though hailing from different programs across the Northeast, expressed a similar passion for preventive care.
“In primary care, keeping people out of the hospital is a challenging but worthwhile endeavor,” said Dr. John Romano, who also recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. “I think that’s something a lot of us feel 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 gives an opportunity to intervene before a problem becomes really acute,” Albrecht said. “If we, as a country, had a greater focus on our preventative care, we could really address some of the problematic health outcomes that generate the disparity between the US and the outcomes frequently referenced in some European countries.”
Part of the five residents’ work — which they’ve already begun through meetings with community members and local officials — will be to better understand the “unique set of challenges” of the area. During their first week of residency, the five residents traveled around the county, meeting with selectboard members, town administrators, local physicians and other members of the community.
“It says a lot about the priorities of the program,” Albrecht said. “We’ve spent a lot of time learning medicine this month, but there really is a particular commitment to understanding the nuances of the communities of western Mass and how we’re going to best serve it as residents, but also hopefully as (attending physicians) as well.”
To be part of the first group of residents was an “amazing opportunity,” Ferrick noted.
“Residency programs don’t just pop up every year,” Ferrick said. “It’s certainly a big honor, a lot of responsibility.”
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.