Doctors with new Meritus residency program focusing on patients, community, souls

For Dr. Paul Quesenberry, teaching doctors how to be family physicians goes beyond diagnosing diseases and treating trauma.

“Each person is not a problem to be solved. They’re a soul to be loved. ... That’s what you do as a family physician,” he said.

He also had those sentences written in a presentation that he was preparing to give to six doctors Monday afternoon. Those six are the first residents in the Meritus Family Medicine Residency Program.

The residency program, a first for Meritus, is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The physicians and residents started seeing patients a few weeks ago at Robinwood Professional Center, adjacent to Meritus Medical Center near Hagerstown. Statistics show that many residents are likely to stay and practice medicine within 75 miles of their training site, which could increase access to care for area patients.

According to Quesenberry, national studies show that roughly 50% to 60% of physicians participating in residency programs will stay and practice medicine within 75 miles of their training site.

The Meritus program is anticipating similar results, and that would improve area residents’ access to medical care.

“That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Quesenberry said.

To help celebrate the new program, the Washington County Chamber of Commerce will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the program’s office at 11110 Medical Campus Road.

Residents are graduates of medical school who are training in a specialty. And virtually all doctors have to be trained in a specialty, Quesenberry said.

The program offers physicians three years of structured, supervised training alongside Meritus medical staff. As the program grows, six new residents will be added each year. Quesenberry said there are five faculty members. He expects that number to grow as well.

“There’s a huge need for primary care providers,” he said, and that includes family physicians.

Family doctors tend to patients’ illnesses and medical conditions while developing relationships with the person’s family and the community, he said.

“It’s not knowing your problem. It’s knowing you. ... A well-trained family physician can take care of 80 percent of what walks through the door. That’s what we want to do,” he said.

In Quesenberry’s way of thinking, family doctors who know their patents well also can help those people in other ways, such as taking preventive measures to avoid costly medical procedures down the road.

Patients generally give high marks to family medicine residency programs, he said. In part, that’s because the patient is seen by two physicians — the resident and the doctor serving as something of a mentor. Also, because of the way residency programs are structured, physicians get to spend more time with patients, he said.

Quesenberry and his assistant, Dr. Aaron George, said the program can have an impact on the community as well.

“Before I taught about anything medical, I taught about the community first,” George said.

Those community lessons included a bit of everything, he said, from the area’s common medical challenges down to where local people work, play and worship. Family physicians can be in a unique position to pursue their passions “and be of service,” George said.

“We really want them to connect (their training) with needs in the community,” Quesenberry said.

One reason for that community connection, they said, is the potential long-term impact of the program, improving area residents’ access to medical care.