MUSC launches program to bring medical residents to areas where they're badly needed

September 14, 2023
perfectly symmetrical photo of a medical building. Three taller parts stand in the middle. Shorter buildings surround them.
MUSC Health Florence Medical Center on Pamplico Highway. Photo by John Russell

The Medical University of South Carolina is launching a new graduate medical education program through its Regional Health Network, which includes hospitals across the state. It will start at the MUSC Health Florence Medical Center next July.

The city’s mayor was happy to hear the news. “Florence is the medical hub of the Pee Dee. With more resident physicians being able to reside in Florence, this will expand the potential for them to be lifelong citizens here. I value the opportunity to increase the number of doctors we have in the Pee Dee area. I am excited about this announcement,” said Teresa Myers Ervin.

Tsveti Markova, M.D., is excited about it too. As the MUSC Health chief academic integration officer, she leads the Regional Health Network GME strategic growth project. “The educational opportunity is the best of both worlds,” she said.

“Florence is a small community, with a very intimate, individualized environment where the residents could pretty much participate in any teaching moment – from the clinic or emergency room to the intensive care and operating rooms. It's very one on one with the faculty preceptors,” Markova said.

“It provides phenomenal clinical experience. Residents can learn from experienced clinicians and focus on their own learning habits, strengths and interests. At the same time, they are exposed to all available resources of a large academic health system, nationally renowned for research, innovation, telehealth and up-to-date technologies.”

Medical school graduates need to complete such GME programs, or residencies, to become licensed doctors. Rami Zebian, M.D., chief medical officer of the MUSC Health-Pee Dee Division, said the new program will benefit both medical residents and patients. 

A woman with short red hair wearing a white jacket with blue trim smiles while leaning one arm on a desk. 
Dr. Tsveti Markova. Photo by Emma Vought

“The crux of the reason why we need GME is really to meet the needs of the community. South Carolina is one of the biggest exporters of medical students in the country. We have a lot of medical students that graduate and can’t find spots for residency to stay in the state. And the data says that a lot of times, physicians stay to practice where they do their training.” 

It will be a different experience than they’d get somewhere bigger, Zebian said, but they’ll still have the benefit of MUSC’s long experience with training doctors.

“If somebody has joint pain and you work in a large academic medical center, it's ‘OK, well, let's ask rheumatology to take a look at it.’ But in the community, people are going to go to their primary care doctor, and their doctor is going to figure that out. So having a feel for what it's like to practice in a community setting gets you well-prepared to be practicing in the area. Also in Florence, the hospital is large enough that we have support and specialists and services, but it's small enough that people know each other by name.”

Markova said giving doctors the chance to learn in that kind of atmosphere is important in a state where about one-third of all of its people live in rural areas. 

Headshot of man with a beard. He's wearing a white doctor's coat with a purple shirt under it. 
Dr. Rami Zebian

“Our mission is to lead innovative GME programs where physicians in training develop clinical and professional competence to provide exceptional patient care in the communities they serve, with a special focus on rural and underserved areas. 

“So that is very different from the urban Charleston mission. In the near future, medical school graduates may also be able to do their residency trainings at the MUSC Health Lancaster, Chester and Kershaw medical centers.”

To fulfill that mission in Florence, the first Internal Medicine class will have eight resident positions starting in July 2024. The first Family Medicine residency class is expected to start in 2025 with eight resident positions as well.

Markova said the federal government recognizes the value of such training. Due to the nature of these hospitals being “GME naive,” it’s providing funding for Regional Health Network GME through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

“That means there is a sustainable future for these residency programs once we establish them. So that gives a great advantage in these particular locations. Not only are we creating GME positions in South Carolina for the physician pipeline, but also, there is a mechanism for financial sustainability of these new residency programs. 

Markova said that helps MUSC meet its goal of serving people across the state. “We're investing in high-quality education to deliver high-quality care in the future for these communities across South Carolina.”

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