KINGSPORT – Wellmont Health System and the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University are teaming to improve the region's health care through another partnership that will enhance the level of orthopedic care in the region.
The two leaders in health care, which christened a family practice residency program in Southwest Virginia in 2010, have begun a new osteopathic orthopedic residency program at Holston Valley Medical Center. It is one of only 33 such programs in the country.
Wellmont and LMU-DCOM recently conducted a white-coat ceremony for the first six medical residents to enroll. The residents have started seeing patients.
Stacy Christian, the program's coordinator, said the plan is to eventually enroll as many as 15 physicians in the five-year residency program. Like its sister program in Southwest Virginia, this residency program's aim is to increase the number of orthopedic surgeons in this area.
"It's a huge deal to get this residency program started," said Dr. Dan Krenk, assistant program director. "By increasing the roster of specialists, we are enhancing the quality of life and quality of care for those who live in our region. It ensures our patients will continue to receive a continuum of care close to home."
Residency programs provide additional training for physicians who have completed medical school.
Christian said it is important to build the base of orthopedic surgeons because many of the area's current physicians are nearing retirement age. Establishing a residency program is a key to softening the potential impact.
"It's a proven fact that the majority of medical residents stay in the area where they are trained," Christian said. "These physicians will be well served completing their residency at Kingsport's flagship hospital, which sets a high bar for patient care and serves as a leader in orthopedics in the Tri-Cities area."
LMU-DCOM is the sponsoring academic institution for the residency program. Although physicians in this program are not required to be graduates of this medical school, the three residents in their first year came from LMU-DCOM. The others are in their second year and came to Holston Valley from other programs.
"LMU-DCOM is pleased to partner with Wellmont for the osteopathic orthopedic residency program," said Dr. Ray Stowers, vice president of health sciences and dean of LMU-DCOM. "The need for dedicated physicians in all specialties in Appalachia is without question. By providing high-quality residency programs in this region, we are creating opportunities for these young physicians to immediately have an impact on the health and well-being of this area."
Dr. Krenk said medical practices, such as Watauga Orthopedics, Appalachian Orthopedics and Holston Medical Group, have welcomed the residency program. He said their physicians are part of the faculty teaching the residents.
Enrolling in the osteopathic orthopedic residency program is a bonus on multiple fronts for Dr. Brandon Green.
A native of Clintwood, Va., who has spent most of his life in Southwest Virginia, Dr. Green is back home after participating for a year in an osteopathic residency program in Ohio. But it's not just the pull of family and the mountains that makes this young physician happy.
He's thrilled to be learning full time from Dr. Krenk and Dr. Jon Minter, the program's director. Both are osteopathic orthopedic surgeons at Holston Valley that he considers among the elite. He is particularly impressed with Dr. Minter's work with reconstruction and joint replacement and Dr. Krenk's efforts with acetabular fractures.
"These physicians will perform surgeries that few of their colleagues across the country will," Dr. Green said.
Dr. Green said another appeal of Holston Valley is its status as a Level 1 Trauma Center. He said Holston Valley has the only osteopathic orthopedic residency program in the country based at such a trauma center.
"In programs elsewhere, I'd have to leave my family for six months a year for a couple of years and go to another medical facility to get the necessary Level 1 trauma training," Dr. Green said. "But serving my residency at Holston Valley, I will never have to leave. To be able to stay in one hospital is amazing. And then to have all of these opportunities in my home region is like icing on the cake."
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Dr. Green said he plans to set up a practice in this region when he finishes the residency program. His wife, who hails from Richlands, Va., is participating in Holston Valley's family medicine residency program.
Dr. Krenk said there is even long-term potential for some of these medical residents to go elsewhere for more training in a fellowship and return to a Wellmont hospital to practice in a subspecialty such as pediatric orthopedics or orthopedic oncology.
Even if some of the residents who train here do not stay in the Tri-Cities, the new program will offer a community service by potentially providing orthopedic surgeons to rural and underserved areas in other parts of the country, he said.
Reviewing the inaugural group of medical residents, Dr. Krenk is impressed.
"I think they're going to do very well and make everyone proud," he said. "They're extremely intelligent, compassionate and eager to learn. They're able to communicate well with patients, nurses, other staff and families. They're good individuals. They are going to establish a high standard for this program."
In addition to Dr. Green, members of the Class of 2015 are Dr. Paul Ghattas and Dr. Jennifer Waterman. Members of the Class of 2016 are LMU-DCOM graduates Dr. Darren Barton, Dr. Kyle Boren and Dr. Leroy Butler.
The inaugural group of physicians in the new osteopathic orthopedic residency program at Holston Valley Medical Center pose for a photo at their recent white-coat ceremony.
Cutline for attached photo: Dr. Dan Krenk, right, and Dr. Paul Ghattas review an X-ray of a fractured right forearm.