Residents to begin training at Memorial

Surgical and family medicine residents bolster Memorial’s ‘steep trajectory of success’
June 21, 2016

For the first time in the 112-year-old history of Memorial Hospital, medical residents will train there starting in July — another sign of how UCHealth is advancing care and medical education in southern Colorado.

Forty-three surgical interns and residents from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and eight family practice residents from the Peak Vista Family Medicine program will train at Memorial during the next year.

Dr. Jose Melendez, Memorial’s chief medical officer, said that training residents and medical school students is another sign of the “steep trajectory of success’’ that Memorial is experiencing.

Jordan Christensen
Jordan Christensen

“By surrounding ourselves with students and residents, we will become better physicians. Teaching will improve the care of our patients,’’ Melendez said. “The addition of medical residents breeds the opportunity for research – opportunities that will result in more clinical trials coming to Colorado Springs.

“In addition to state-of-the-art care, all prestigious institutions have education and research. As a teaching facility, we will be able to recruit and retain the brightest and most promising doctors to our community,’’ Melendez said.

In early May, 15 third-year medical students from CU also began training at the hospital. UCHealth contributes $3 million annually to the School of Medicine to support medical education at the school.

Leah Blake
Leah Blake

Dr. Dan Valentino, a Memorial general surgeon, will serve as the site director for surgical residents. Valentino has experience with residents – he was the associate program director for the surgical critical care fellowship program at Cook County Hospital in Chicago.

“I think this changes things for the better because when you are committed to teaching, your game is elevated. The goal for the surgical residents is to experience a high-volume general surgery service – to give the residents as much experience as we can provide,’’ Valentino said.

The surgical residents will work alongside Colorado Health Medical Group physicians who perform acute care surgery, including laparoscopic appendectomy, laparoscopic cholecystectomy and hernia repair. The residents also will provide assistance during post-operative outpatient clinic visits. Each resident will spend four to eight weeks in the program at Memorial, and then a new group of residents will enter the program, said Carolyn Carroll, a Memorial nurse who served on a 2012 commission that recommended leasing Memorial to UCHealth. Carroll is now clinical operations manager for UCHealth Memorial Hospital General and Vascular Surgery.

Dr. Mark Nehler, professor of surgery and the surgical residency director for the CU School of Medicine, said placing surgical residents at Memorial offers residents educational opportunities in a rich, community practice setting.

Na Jen
Na Jen

“We felt that Memorial offered the advantage that it is within our health system and that the surgeons here exclusively operate at this hospital. So we felt like this could give our residents a high volume of standard operative procedures,’’ Nehler said. Residents also will have the opportunity to perform surgeries on da Vinci robots, he said.

“We don’t have huge volumes of that in our educational program right now, so that was another positive for us, to be able to add experience in robotic surgery, particularly for gut and pelvic work. We’ve been working with our da Vinci reps to make sure that our residents get adequate initial training before they come to Colorado Springs,’’ Nehler said.

Having residents in Colorado Springs, he said, is exciting for the community.

“There is pretty good evidence that people who train in places tend to take jobs there. So, it is an opportunity for the surgeons in Colorado Springs to show our residents what it is like to live in a different part of Colorado and care for potentially a different patient population and a different side of practice. The residents are excited, and I think they see it as an opportunity to increase their cases,’’ Nehler said.

Joshua Jewell
Joshua Jewell

Memorial Drs. Andrew Berson, Larry Butler, Jeremy Hedges, Brian Leininger, Paul Reckard, Keyan Riley, Dan Valentino, and Tiffany Willard are all now volunteer clinical faculty at the CU School of Medicine and will help train the residents.

“This is another chapter in the further evolution of Memorial’s commitment to excellent patient care in Colorado Springs and southern Colorado,’’ said Carroll.

“This is all part of the vote by Colorado Springs to lease Memorial to UCHealth. Some of the elements outlined in the lease are now coming to fruition. I don’t think any one of us in 2012 saw this day. We knew it was coming but, at the time, we could not imagine this day,’’ said Carroll. “This brings depth and a breadth of medical expertise, job growth and new opportunities for clinicians in Colorado Springs. This elevates our practice.’’

During the inaugural year of Peak Vista’s Family Medicine Residency program, Memorial will host eight residents – four men and four women. Peak Vista has developed the three-year osteopathic family residency program for family practice doctors to expand access to care while providing a local solution to the shortage of primary care physicians in Colorado and across the nation. As a three-year family health residency program, physician residents will provide care for patients of all ages.

Matthew Schippers
Matthew Schippers

“This is an incredible milestone for Peak Vista and for our community,” said Peak Vista President and CEO Pam McManus. “Bringing medical residents to the area will not only improve patient access, it is a community effort to build a local solution for the provider workforce shortage in the Pikes Peak and East Central regions of Colorado.”

Before the Peak Vista program, Colorado Springs, a city of 440,000 residents and the hub of the Pikes Peak Region, which is home to nearly 700,000 residents, had no primary care residency program.

“Colorado Springs was one of the largest communities in the United States without a primary care residency,’’ said Dr. Michael Welch, Peak Vista chief medical and dental officer.  “Our residency program is a result of the community-wide support from local hospitals and specialty physicians.

Peak Vista family medicine residents will begin four-week rotations in surgery, OB, and anesthesiology beginning July 5.

Peak Vista believes that developing a residency program for primary care physicians will also help provide access to those facing barriers to care.  Residents will rotate through many of Peak Vista’s 26 health centers located in seven counties. Currently, Peak Vista is the medical home for nearly 84,000 people.

Daniel Kramer
Daniel Kramer

The residency programs and the medical student training may help to curb the shortage of physicians in southern Colorado. No matter what the future holds, the addition of medical education at Memorial is historic.

In a welcome letter to the residents, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers wrote: “It is our privilege to have you as a medical resident at UCHealth Memorial Hospital. We hope you enjoy your time in our beautiful city as you learn from many of the best health care providers in our region.’’

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.