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Upstate graduates first class from family medicine residency program

Upstate Medical University is helping combat the national shortage of primary care providers with its new Family Medicine Residency Program.

The new program began in 2019 and was the first residency program for Upstate Family Medicine and the first residency program based at Upstate’s Community Campus.

 On Saturday, the program’s inaugural class, celebrated its graduation from the three-year program.

Four of these new doctors will launch their careers here at Upstate.

Program Director R. Eugene Bailey, MD, FAAFP, said the inaugural class exceeded all expectations.

“We were looking for residents who could bring passion, a strong work ethic, and certainly a desire to serve our community especially regarding diversity and an equity of healthcare,” he said. “All of them were committed to serving the underserved.  We were also looking for innovation with our residents and a spirit of trailblazing. All five residents went above and beyond our expectations for our first class.”

The inaugural graduates are Jorge Alvarenga-Montoya, MD; Bushra Atta Ur Rehman, MBBS; Rahila Iftikhar, MBBS; Akifa Nazim, MBBS; Krysten Wallace, MD, chief resident.

“They are a diverse group,” Bailey said. “They come from all different walks of life. One of the strengths in our residency program is the breath of cultures and experiences that our residents bring. Many of them have already overcome many challenges in their personal lives and they bring a certain amount of resilience we felt we needed for our initial class.”

All the graduates will remain in Central New York. Atta Ur Rehman, Wallace and Iftikhar will be joining the Family Residency program as faculty. Nazim will do a one-year fellowship in geriatrics at Upstate and Alvarenga-Montoya will be joining Family Care Medical Group in Camillus.

“I am so grateful for my time and the skills I have acquired, both professionally and personally, as a resident in the Upstate Family Medicine Residency Program,” Wallace said. “Though a new program, from the beginning I knew we would be successful as the program was already surrounded by numerous established residency and fellowship programs within Upstate Medical University.  I look forward to continuing to serve this community that has helped train me to become the family medicine physician I am today.”

With an aging baby boom population – which includes those retiring from medicine – as well as expanded health care coverage for many Americans, more people are seeking out primary care all the time. Recently, a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts that it is estimated that there will be a primary care physician shortage up to 55,200 physicians by 2033.

Upstate’s program was one of 40 nationwide that launched in 2019. Its mission is to prepare exceptional family medicine trained physicians who will provide exemplary care to patients as well as foster a culture of academic inquiry, research and scholarship. Residents are advocates for policies that support community health, holistic approaches to health care and prevention.

The residents receive a diversity of opportunities that train them to be excellent clinicians in urban, suburban, and rural practice, and prepare them for leadership and faculty positions in family medicine. Additionally, they are committed to meeting the physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of their patients. They model the highest standards of patient care, teaching, and research.

During the program, the residents worked in nearly all areas of the hospital including the emergency department, pediatrics and labor and delivery. One third of their rotations took place at the Veteran Administration Medical Center. In addition, the residents had 20 hours of electives to allow them to pursue their interests. They also had an opportunity to obtain a Certificate of Advanced Study in Public Health (CASPH), exposure to the VA’s Whole Health For Life Program and to leverage Upstate’s expertise in many sub-specialties.

Bailey said being the first residency program at Community was very beneficial, both to the residents and the hospital.

“The residency has brought a lot of enhancement or elevation to Community Hospital because now we are trying to develop the education piece here and everybody benefits from that. The quality of care goes up when you bring education into it. We really are proud of the fact that our program has been able to do that over here at Community.”

The program also emphasized wellness with sessions on mediation, reiki, work-life balance and integrative medicine as well as psychological and emotional support.

“From the beginning we wanted our residents to focus not only on their education and their profession but also on themselves,” Bailey said.

And the program continues to grow. With 18 residents now in the three-year program, applicant pools for the six annual spots swelled to as many as 2,500. Six new faculty will be added to the program for the upcoming year and in 2023, two more resident slots will be added for a Rural Training track at Auburn Memorial Hospital.

“We are very appreciative that Upstate had the vision to establish this program and we really appreciate the continued support,” Bailey said. “Upstate has been very, very supportive and totally invested in the mission to increase primary care in Central New York.”

Caption: Members of the inaugural graduating class of the Family Medicine Residency Program are, from left, Rahila Iftikhar, MBBS; Bushra Atta Ur Rehman, MBBS; Akifa Nazim, MBBS; Krysten Wallace, MD, chief resident; and Jorge Alvarenga-Montoya, MD.