Train and Retain Medical Professionals

by | Jan 2024

IT HAS often been said that teamwork makes the dream work. In 2018, Med Center Health, The University of Kentucky (UK) College of Medicine in Bowling Green, Western Kentucky University’s (WKU) School of Nursing, and the School of Physical Therapy teamed up with a mission not only to train students in health care but to also retain them.

According to the program director of the general surgery residency program at Med Center Health, Dr. Shane O’Keeffe, this is the first collaboration of its kind in the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“The partnership was created to educate physicians, nurses, and therapists in Kentucky, for Kentucky — to address the critical shortages across the region. The additional space in the WKU-Health Sciences Complex building has allowed WKU to admit more students into their programs, and the UK campus in Bowling Green has allowed several cohorts of medical students to come through and receive their training right here with our physicians and educators as mentors,” said Dr. O’Keeffe.

“This location offers students direct access to a clinical environment where they can work with patients and physicians. The UK College of Medicine offers an MD program and residencies and fellowship programs for physicians who have already completed medical school. The WKU School of Nursing offers a variety of nursing programs and certifications, and the WKU Doctor of Physical Therapy program offers advanced training for therapists. Our mission is to educate as many future doctors, nurses, and therapists as we can.”

According to Dr. O’Keeffe, rural areas experience shortages in physicians and medical providers, so this partnership not only helps train graduates for these locations but also improves the probability that graduates will choose to stay. “Because of the shortage, the idea of this partnership is to train future health care providers to stay in the region to provide care for folks close to home, so they don’t have to travel far for their medical care.”

Since the program started, they have graduated 116 students from the residency and fellowship training programs. Of those graduates, 45 have moved into further residency training programs, 12 are in fellowship programs, and eight have joined the staff at Med Center Health. Five others have remained within the state.

“Our graduates have sought employment in the private practices and hospital-owned groups,” said Dr. O’Keeffe. “South Central Kentucky is a great place to live and work. The allure of larger cities can be irresistible to some students interested in the medical field. But here, in this growing community, we can do the most good for people who really need it. Our students are getting an exceptional education from expert innovators in their fields of medicine. They get hands-on experience, all while making a difference in our community. The opportunity exists for them to obtain their undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate training in medical education right here in Bowling Green.”

The excitement brewing around the future of this program motivates Dr. O’Keeffe and provides him with the strength to overcome challenging times.

“I really thrive when I see patients’ lives being positively changed by the procedures that I and my colleagues perform. Having a residency program has been amazing. It is so inspiring to see individuals starting straight from school and watch them grow to be exceptional surgeons and physicians. It is really very exciting to be a part of that growth and know that I am hopefully playing a small part in changing the health care landscape here and all of Kentucky.

“Med Center Health has been a substantial part of my career, and I have been extremely lucky to have found such an amazing work environment to grow both professionally and personally. The
Med Center is very patient-focused, and I really appreciate the quality of care for our patient population. However, personally, I have found what I enjoy most about the Med Center are the opportunities to continue to learn and grow outside of my profession. Working with various staff throughout the organization, I’ve been fortunate to witness excellent leadership and employee dedication and, in turn, have utilized these ‘life lessons’ in my practice and my personal life. I can also say I am proud to be a part of an organization that is dedicated to making our community a healthier and more inclusive place to live.”

Originally from Ireland, Dr. O’Keeffe and his family consider themselves home in Kentucky. “This
has been a place of acceptance, friendship, and joy. Bowling Green is a very special place in which to live.” GN

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