LUMBERTON — The benefits of a newly-opened medical education department at Southeastern Regional Medical Center are expected to reach far beyond its 10,000 square feet.
“It’s a great day for Southeastern Health and for Robeson County,” Coble Wilson, chairman of the board of trustees for the Southeastern Health Foundation, said during an open house held in the new wing on Tuesday.
Twenty-five medical residents in three programs — family medicine, internal medicine and emergency medicine — began utilizing the renovated fourth floor facility on July 1 and 40 medical students from Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine, who have come to Lumberton to do hands-on hospital rotations, joined them Monday.
The programs will grow each year, and during the next 20 years, Southeastern Health is expected to train more than 1,000 physicians.
Residents led small groups on tours of the medical education department, which was renovated with the help of $1.6 million in grants from The Duke Endowment, the Golden LEAF foundation, the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Cannon Foundation.
The facility, coated in cheery shades of yellow and lime green, includes lockers, classrooms, offices, and an E-library where students can connect to Campbell’s online medical library, finish notes and do research. They can also rest in an on-call room and play video games in a lounge.
Students use one large classroom for lectures on interesting cases they or other hospital attendants have encountered, as well as to review medical journals.
Joann Anderson, Southeastern Health’s president and CEO, painted a picture of qualified doctors all over the state and the country who got their start in Lumberton.
“Imagine what it can do for Southeastern North Carolina if this first class stays within 50 miles, which is what typically occurs,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she has already gotten positive feedback about residents, and added that the School of Osteopathic Medicine’s No. 1 and No. 2 students are now a part of Southeastern Health’s program.
“I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen with the lives of these medical students and how they are going to serve,” said Jerry Wallace, chancellor of Campbell University.
Speakers at a ribbon cutting for the facility touted the economic benefits to Robeson County as students and residents move to the area and as the county’s health care workforce grows.
“We know that without a good, vibrant hospital you will not have that important part of the infrastructure to help this economy in Robeson County and the region grow and develop,” said Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, which awarded a $500,000 grant to fund renovations.
The residents and students also bring needed extra hands to a busy hospital tasked with serving Robeson County as well as surrounding counties and travelers on Interstate 95.
As Anderson put it, becoming a teaching hospital has placed Southeastern into a new group of peers.
According to a study in the March 2015 Journal of Graduate Medical Education, teaching hospitals see higher patient satisfaction and shorter hospital stays, which means lower costs to patients and hospitals.
“The greatest opportunity is going to be to the people in this region who are in need of compassionate, competent care from committed physicians,” said J. Bradley Creed, president of Campbell University.
The opportunity to work in a mostly rural area is what drew many students and residents to Southeastern Health.
Third-year medical student Victor Appau, who was born in Ghana and later moved to Massachusetts, said he is “ecstatic” to begin his training at the hospital.
“I grew up in a pretty under-served, under-privileged community in Ghana so I’ve always wanted to bring primary care to people without access to it,” Appau said.
Megan Plum, who is from Kansas City and is part of the hospital’s internal medicine program, also wanted to lend a hand in a community in need of doctors.
After reviewing her patients records in the medical education wing each morning, Plum visits about five to 10 patients each day on rounds. She sees her placement in Lumberton as a chance to help “mold the expectations” of a brand new program, she said.
“The hospital has a lost of resources you wouldn’t expect to see in a smaller city,” Plum said. ” … I feel like you don’t get lost and you can form a relationship with your patients.”
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.