Jillian Snner and Michael Berlin

Jillian Senner, DO, associate director, and Michael Berlin, MD, director of the Cayuga Internal Medicine Residency program (Photo: Cayuga Medical Center)

An innovative training program bringing medical residents to Cayuga Medical Center in 2019 for their residencies will help attract new primary care physicians to the region. With more primary care physicians, patients will find it easier to schedule medical visits and enroll as new patients with medical practices. 

The new Cayuga Medical Center Internal Medicine Residency program was developed over the last two years through a partnership between Cayuga Medical Center and NewYork- Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. A $700,000 grant from the New York State Department of Health funded the effort as part of its initiative to expand primary care in underserved areas of the state. Recent accreditation of the new program by The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education allows medical school graduates to complete an accredited three-year internal medicine residency through Cayuga Medical Center. Primary care physicians are generalists and care for a wide range of illnesses. Graduates of the residency are internal medicine doctors who will be eligible for American Board of Internal Medicine certification and treat patients 18 and older.

Tompkins and nearby counties face a growing shortage of primary care physicians. A 2017 study by the School of Public Health at the State University of New York at Albany found large differences in where primary care physicians practice in the eight-county Southern Tier region. The area’s urban counties of Tompkins, Broome and Chemung have one primary care physician for about every 900 residents. In the region’s five rural counties, there is one primary care physician for about every 1,700 residents. Community health planners predict a growing shortage of primary care doctors in all Southern Tier counties as the region’s existing physicians retire, and its demographics shift to an older population needing more primary health care services. 

“During the next three years, Tompkins and surrounding counties are projected to have a deficit of greater than 30 primary care providers. Innovative efforts like the Cayuga Medical Center Internal Medicine Residency program are an important way to attract new physicians to our area,” says Michael Berlin, MD, a hospitalist at Cayuga Medical Center and director of the Cayuga Internal Medicine Residency program.

Most residency programs in New York are at large metropolitan hospitals. That contributes to the problem most upstate counties have in attracting new physicians. American Medical Association records show that more than half of doctors practice within 100 miles of their medical residencies, a disadvantage for small communities in attracting new physicians.

Both Berlin and Jillian Senner, DO, the associate director of Cayuga Medical Center Internal Medicine Residency program, attended residencies at major hospitals and moved to the Finger Lakes area to continue their careers. The region’s natural beauty, quality of life, and the range of medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties offered at Cayuga Medical Center attracted them to the Ithaca area. Establishing a residency program in Ithaca will help promote an awareness of those assets so more new physicians will consider locating in the region.

“The lack of familiarity new physicians have with upstate communities is a problem. They may incorrectly assume the area cannot support a high-quality medical practice or the communities won’t provide the lifestyle and opportunities they want for themselves their families,” Berlin says.

The residency program Berlin and Senner are developing exposes internal medicine residents to the region’s educational, recreational and cultural assets, while developing their clinical, leadership, public communication, and advocacy skills to better serve the region’s population. 

“Mastering those skills and developing connections to the community ensures long-term professional success for residents and will encourage many to practice medicine in the area,” says Berlin.

The new program began accepting applications in the fall and hundreds of medical students have applied. Those competing for the first 10 residency positions will have received their medical degrees and are seeking post-graduate training to practice as internal medicine physicians. The program stresses high-quality education and patient-care experiences supervised by Cayuga Medical Center physicians, many of whom also hold faculty appointments at Weill Cornell Medical School.

Partnerships between the program and many local health care and community organizations will o.er residents practical insights into practicing medicine in small communities where doctors have a keen understanding of their patients’ lifestyles.

“The community partnerships will give residents experiences they will encounter as primary care physicians for a wide variety of patient needs. By working with the 200+ physicians on the medical sta. at Cayuga Medical Center, residents also learn to work with primary and specialty care physicians to improve their patients’ treatment,” Senner says.

Residents supervised by physicians will see patients at Cayuga Medical Center, Schuyler Hospital, local clinics, and medical offices during the training program. Examining, diagnosing, and treating patients while attending lectures delivered by general and subspecialty medical experts, participating in conferences,

quality improvement, and research studies gives residents a unique perspective into the practice of medicine and delivery of care, she says.

Local medical training expected to bring more primary care physicians to region 

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