Lakeland Regional Health’s quest to become a teaching hospital will soon become a reality with the first students expected to start on July 1, 2023, hospital CEO Danielle Drummond announced at today’s Lakeland City Commission meeting.

The Graduate Medical Education program will build gradually and expects to reach its capacity of 190 residents five years after launching, Drummond said.

LRH’s medical center is the 44th largest hospital in the U.S., Drummond said, yet it is one of the few among the largest hospitals not involved in training the next generation of physicians, Drummond said.

“Moreover, we know from looking at the top-ranked hospitals in the country that they are all teaching hospitals, she said. “So we feel confident that the infusion of residents, faculty and the research and education that it brings will even further the work that we do in these various clinical services.”

Residencies will be offered in:

  • Internal medicine
  • Psychiatry
  • Emergency medicine
  • Family medicine
  • Obstetrics/gynecology
  • General surgery

The program will help alleviate a shortage of health care providers in Polk County, said Drummond, who expressed hopes that the opportunity to work here will lead some of the students to practice here beyond their residency.

A separate “transitional year” program will be available for residents who elect to continue with Lakeland Regional Health.

Drummond illustrated the “gap” in medical providers with these statistics:

  • Polk County has one primary care physician for every 2,080 residents, compared with a one per 1,380 statewide one per 1,210 people in neighboring Hillsborough County.
  • For behavioral health, it’s one provider in Polk for every 1,070 residents, compared with one per 590 statewide and one per 550 in Hillsborough.

The program will be headed by Nancy Finnigan, an osteopathic doctor at LRH who specializes in nephrology. In addition, she will serve as interim director of the internal medicine residency program. (View the document at the end of this article to see who will lead each of the other programs.)

The program is expected to support 350 new jobs and have an economic impact of $48 million, Drummond said, citing a study conducted this year for LRH by Washington Economics Group Inc.

Prospective residents will be interviewed in the fall of 2022, Drummond said.

“Our hope is that not only will there be a lot of activity over the course of the training but that a number of these individuals will get to know and love our institution and our community as much as we do and they will choose to stay here and practice, which again will help us with some of those long-term deficits in the health-care-providing arena,” Drummond said.

LRH has had to overcome some challenges on its journey toward offering a residency program. In 2017, the hospital worked with then-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to change the criteria for federal funding for residency programs. Previous rules that applied to LRH and 10 other hospitals restricted Medicare funding for residency programs because, in LRH’s case, there were already three doctors on rotation from other teaching hospitals.

The Florida Legislature this year appropriated $450,000 from state general funds and $760,003 from the Medical Care Trust Fund for the residency program to further its goal of reducing the local physician shortage.

The total 2021-22 cost for the program was listed as $20.5 million in a document filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel requesting the $450,000 allocation. The document noted that LRH will not receive federal funding for the project until it hosts its first student.

Drummond’s announcement was part of an annual update from the hospital to city commissioners. Here are the slides she used:

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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1 Comment

  1. Does this mean that LRH may eventually build the hi-rise residential tower for residents North of the existing campus as shown on previous future planned facilities?

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