SPRING HILL — There are many lessons Eric Sladek and Megha Oberoi didn't learn during medical school.
Like how to balance the 10-, 12-, sometimes 14-hour days. Like how it feels to see the smile of a patient who gets to go home after treatment. Like how to break the news to someone who might have cancer.
They've learned these lessons, however, during the first month of Oak Hill Hospital's internal medicine residency program. The program, in its pilot year, admitted 10 students from about 500 applicants, said Katie Stacy, marketing coordinator for the hospital. The hospital's parent company, HCA, decided to start the program — and a similar one at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson — because officials noticed there weren't enough residency programs to accommodate graduating medical students, especially in Florida, Stacy said.
"We saw the opportunity, and this is a great community," she said.
For Sladek, 30, and Oberoi, 28, several aspects drew them to the Oak Hill program.
They both liked the schedule, which operates on a four-plus-one rotation. For four weeks, residents work in inpatient care, the intensive care unit or subspecialty departments, Sladek explained. Then, once every five weeks, residents work in the Access Health Care continuity clinic. The setup allows the residents to focus solely on the patients in each section for an extended period of time.
Sladek and Oberoi also liked the fact that they would be able to shape the program for themselves and future residents.
"If we suggest something, they'll actually listen to it," Oberoi said.
"It allows us to lay the foundation and the groundwork," Sladek added.
The hospital spent about $3 million to prepare facilities for the residents, including a cluster of bedrooms in the North Tower they can use during their 24-hour shift rotations, and a new building with a classroom equipped for presentations and video conferences.
On an afternoon at the end of July, the residents made their rounds, wearing white lab coats with pagers clipped to their waistbands. They spoke with nurses and buzzed in and out of patients' rooms, blending into the bustle of the hospital.
During a typical day, the residents arrive at the hospital about 6:30 a.m. to start morning patient checks.
The checks usually last until about noon, when they gather in the classroom for an instructional conference with doctors from area hospitals. Afterward, they check again on morning patients and meet with newly arrived patients. Residents are responsible for up to 10 patients their first year. They'll be able to take on more as the program continues.
Ideally, days are supposed to end at 5 p.m., Sladek said. But most of the time, the residents stay at the hospital long after that.
The hours can be brutal, but working with the patients makes the job worth it, Sladek and Oberoi said.
For example, Oberoi said a patient came in a few weeks ago complaining of chest pain. After a few inconclusive tests, the patient was about to be discharged, but Oberoi and another doctor ordered a CT scan just to be safe. The results showed that the patient had a pulmonary embolism, or a clot in the lung.
"If we hadn't ordered that test," Oberoi said, "we wouldn't have known she was having those symptoms because of that reason."
The program will take on 10 new students each year, with plans to add surgery, anesthesiology and emergency medicine programs, Stacy said.
The current group is already close-knit, Oberoi and Sladek said. They both look forward to getting to know their class better and learning more hands-on lessons over the next three years.
"Everyone goes through this," Sladek said. "It's just going to make you a better physician in the future so that you can handle everything when you're on your own."
Contact Kathryn Varn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114. Follow @kathrynvarn.