For patients seeking healthcare in the north country there are a growing number of family medical practices to choose from and these numbers are continuing to grow thanks to Samaritan Medical Center’s Graduate Medical Education (GME) program.

According to Samaritan Medical Center, for many rural communities, recruiting physicians is a challenge and retaining physicians for more than a few years can be even harder.

In Watertown, new family medicine physicians are being trained every year through GME program. Since graduating its first resident in 2010, the family medicine residency program has graduated 22 new physicians, six of whom are still practicing here in the north country.

Family Medicine Residency Program Director, Dr. Benjamin Rudd, believes many residents succeed and decide to practice locally because the program connects them with their own panel of local patients, rather than sitting them on the sidelines to observe how care is delivered. Family medicine residents have their own practice—the Samaritan Medical Academic Residency Training (SMART) clinic, located in the Samaritan Health and Wellness Plaza, located at 1575 Washington St. There, residents are in charge of caring for upwards of 3,100 patients per year under the supervision of family medicine faculty.

“The Family Medicine Program at Samaritan Medical Center is an important part of the overall care for our community, our rural-oriented community,” Dr. Rudd said. “We have tight-knit attending and resident relationships with a focus on the SMART outpatient family medicine clinic, where residents take care of their own panel of patients—not somebody else’s patients.”

During the three years of training at Samaritan, residents learn to be a patient’s primary source of medical information under the supervision and guidance of experienced, board-certified attending physicians. This training happens in the hospital and in long-term care and outpatient settings. Resident physicians also gain exposure to many of Samaritan’s specialty services, rotating through training in addiction medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, otolaryngology, orthopedics, wound care and more. This breadth of experience is hard to find from other residency programs, says second-year resident Farah Wani, MD, and so is the individual attention given to residents.

“I feel very supported by the attending physicians here, because when you ask them questions they get back to you immediately,” Dr. Wani said. “You get that one-on-one, personalized attention. My colleagues are very, very supportive and I don’t feel any competitiveness. All I feel is support, love and a lot of encouragement.”

With one year left of residency, Dr. Wani says she feels prepared to run her own family medicine clinic in the future. That’s the same way John J. Burnett, DO, felt when he graduated from Samaritan’s Family Medicine Residency Program in 2019. Dr. Burnett is one of the several GME graduates who have stayed in the north country to practice medicine; he cares for local families at Samaritan’s LeRay Family Health Center, in Evans Mills.

“As a north country native, I was so grateful for the opportunity to complete my residency in the community I knew I wanted to serve,” he said. “The Family Medicine Residency Program at Samaritan gave me education and exposure I would not have found anywhere else, and I am a more confident physician because of it. I get great satisfaction from what I do, especially knowing that I am keeping my friends and neighbors healthy.”

Samaritan Medical Center is the only academic teaching facility in Northern New York. In addition to its Family Medicine Residency Program, it trains resident physicians in, it serves as a clinical training site for third- and fourth-year undergraduate medical students. To learn more about clinical education at Samaritan, visit www.samaritanhealth.com.

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