Amid growing concerns about a looming shortage of doctors, the HCA hospital chain plans to begin training hundreds of additional physicians in the Tampa Bay area and across Florida.
Beginning in July 2014, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain plans a major expansion of its medical residency programs statewide, said Peter Marmerstein, HCA west Florida division president, in an interview on Wednesday.
Locally, it would start by training newly graduated doctors in internal medicine and general surgery at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson and Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville. Within five years, HCA expects to have 200 to 300 residents between the hospitals.
Similar programs will launch at Brandon Regional Hospital and Blake Medical Center in Bradenton in July 2015, with plans to grow to another 200 to 300 residents. Obstetrics and psychiatry are among the specialities anticipated in Brandon.
"It really seemed to us that the only sensible thing to do is to become part of the solution and look for ways to contribute to continuing a supply of physicians," Marmerstein said.
HCA proposes to create additional residency slots at hospitals in southeast Florida and the Orlando area, he said. Eventually, still more residencies could come online locally, including at the Medical Center of Trinity.
To launch the programs, HCA proposes to work with the University of South Florida medical school, already its partner in running a statewide network of five new trauma centers. Details of the relationship still are being worked out, Marmerstein said.
Company officials stressed that the plans are still developing. Estimates of the total residencies expected statewide were not available. Nor could HCA officials say whether other universities may get involved in other regions.
USF officials acknowledged their discussions with HCA, but said no proposals have been submitted to accrediting authorities for a USF residency with HCA.
Independent of what it does with the HCA hospitals, USF recently announced plans to create another 200 to 250 resident slots with Lakeland Regional Medical Center, the first hospital to join its new health system.
USF currently trains about 700 residents at a half-dozen regional hospitals, with Tampa General Hospital as its primary partner.
Yet state leaders believe many more residencies are needed. Florida ranks 42th in the number of medical residents and other specialty trainees per 100,000 citizens, according to a 2011 report of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
"Florida today has more medical students than it does residency slots. This means Florida exports medical students, who must seek residency training in other states," Dr. Charles Paidas, USF's vice dean of clinical affairs and graduate medical education said in a statement.
"This becomes a long-term issue because physicians tend to establish their first practice in the city where they do their residency training," he noted.
State university system chancellor Frank Brogan welcomed HCA's expansion plans.
"As Florida continues to face a significant shortage of medical residency opportunities, it is encouraging to hear that HCA plans to offer some relief," he said in a statement.
HCA currently trains nearly 200 residents in the Tampa Bay region. Most are at Largo Medical Center, with primary care programs also offered at Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg and at St. Petersburg General.
As they are trained, residents provide an important source of labor for the hospitals where they work. Recently, HCA has expanded aggressively into services, such as trauma, that require round-the-clock care.
"We spend an enormous amount of money and an enormous amount of energy in recruiting physicians - and we spend an awful lot of money just providing ongoing coverage to patients that present in our emergency department," Marmerstein said. "We think that having really robust training programs can assist us in both of those areas."
Additionally, HCA expects to tap into federal funds that subsidize residency education through the Medicare program. While funding is capped at hospitals with existing residency programs, hospitals entering the field still can access the money.
Marmerstein declined to comment on the ultimate cost to HCA of training more residents, noting that the company has "run enough models to feel as if we will be able to make this work."
But the benefits go far beyond a bottom line, he noted. Many experienced doctors enjoy teaching residents, who challenge them to stay on top of the latest clinical practices and research.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.