Illustrated collage of a doctor's bag.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Washington Regional Medical Center and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Northwest Regional Campus will soon launch the first batch of 92 new residency slots to be phased in by 2030.

Why it matters: NWA needs doctors, and more in-state residencies mean more people working in medicine who could stay and practice in Arkansas.

  • Arkansas loses about 200 medical school graduates a year to out-of-state residencies.

What’s happening: UAMS and Washington Regional will train eight internal medicine residents starting July 2023. Residencies are three years.

  • From the program’s third year and on, it will have 24 residents.

Context: Federal law caps funding for residency programs at however many slots existed in 1996. Additional spots must be paid for by hospitals, states or philanthropy. But new hospitals or new programs have five years to add slots until they’re capped.

  • UAMS and Washington Regional announced in summer 2021 that 92 new residency slots would open with the help of $12.5 million approved by the Arkansas Legislative Council.
  • UAMS has existing internal medicine residency programs at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas and Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks.

What they’re saying: The entities decided to start with internal medicine in part because of long wait times for hopeful patients to see primary care doctors and a range of specialty care, particularly in rural areas of Washington County, Sheena CarlLee, program director at UAMS, told Axios.

  • Internal medicine residents can go on to practice primary care as well as a broad range of specialties, such as endocrinology, cardiology, oncology and infectious diseases, CarlLee added.

Yes, and: Washington Regional is transforming 6,000 square feet of space inside the hospital into a workspace, lounge space and 50-seat auditorium for residents, David Ratcliff, chief medical officer at Washington Regional, told Axios.

  • The hospital is also adding an outpatient continuity clinic at the Bradley Medical Plaza across from the hospital.

Background: A 2019 report by the Northwest Arkansas Council found that the number of specialty care doctors is not keeping up with the growing population. It’s definitely not enough for the region to be a health care “destination” — a place where patients from outside the region go for health care. The report estimated NWA is missing out on $1 billion a year.

  • A new medical school, the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine, is being built in Bentonville. More local residency slots mean those students have a better chance of staying in NWA when they graduate.

What’s next: The program has received 1,000 applications for its eight slots, Ratcliff said. Residents start July 1, 2023.

  • The next round of residencies will be in emergency medicine, Ratcliff and CarlLee said. The 92 slots include 24 in emergency medicine, 24 in internal medicine, 20 in general surgery, eight in neurology, six in family practice and two in rural track family practice as well as the eight in internal medicine.

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