Penn Highlands Healthcare Is Training Tomorrow’s Physicians Today

The current Penn Highlands Healthcare residents are shown above.

Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said, “Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.” Penn Highlands DuBois enjoys the privilege of helping to raise the next generation of physicians through its Graduate Medical Education (GME) Program.

Physician education and training includes undergraduate studies, medical school and a residency program. Some physicians, who are pursuing certain specialties, continue with advanced fellowship training.

“Throughout the United States, there is an increasing need for physicians in rural areas — including here in Pennsylvania,” said Kevin Wilson, DO, Director of the Penn Highlands DuBois Family Medicine Residency Program. “Penn Highlands Healthcare developed challenging residency and fellowship programs that concentrate on educating physicians to competently, confidently and compassionately meet the demands of rural healthcare,” he added.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rural Americans face numerous health disparities compared with their urban counterparts. More than 46 million Americans, or 15% of the U.S. population, live in rural areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. The CDC reports that rural Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke than their urban counterparts. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that many rural physicians are nearing retirement and nearly 25% fewer may be practicing by 2030. It is becoming increasingly challenging to attract young doctors to rural practices.

Penn Highlands DuBois established its GME program in 2017 to help train physicians – especially for rural healthcare. The program, which is accredited through the Accreditation Council for Graduated Medical Education, offers two residency disciplines — Family Medicine and Psychiatry — as well as a fellowship program in Sports Medicine.

Physicians training in the three-year Family Medicine Residency Program work one-on-one with attending physicians to see patients and perform procedures in multiple inpatient and outpatient settings. The Family Medicine residents have the opportunity to complete rotations in internal medicine, orthopedics, urology, sports medicine and other areas.

Grant Schirmer, DO, graduated from the Family Residency in 2022 and remained in Central Pennsylvania joining the Penn Highlands medical staff as a hospitalist at Penn Highlands DuBois.

“While I was in medical school, I was attracted to the Penn Highlands Family Medicine Residency Program because I saw the potential to grow as a competent and caring physician and person,” Dr. Schirmer explained. “The Penn Highlands Family Medicine Residency Program provides plenty of opportunities to work alongside knowledgeable attending physicians in a rural community-based setting.”

“We feel very fortunate that Dr. Schirmer joined the Penn Highlands Healthcare medical staff as a hospitalist following completion of his residency,” said Renee Allenbaugh, MD, Associate Director of the Family Medicine Residency Program. “Our GME program receives many qualified applicants who gain the necessary skills to be become outstanding physicians that our patients get to know and trust.”

In 2021, Penn Highlands expanded its GME Program to include a Psychiatry Residency Program. The four-year program offers a comprehensive, patient-centered curriculum which prepares graduates for a broad scope of practice. The psychiatry residents receive diverse training through specialized inpatient and outpatient programs for children and adolescents, adults and the geriatric population.

Philip Akanbi, MD, MS, who currently serves as a Co-Chief of the Psychiatry Residency Program, finds the program to be a unique opportunity to care for and provide psychiatric care to a significantly underserved rural community.

“I was attracted to this program due to its commitment to excellence, adaptability, and wellness. Dr Gangewere and our excellent leadership staff have taken strides to not only provide a broad range of clinical experiences but to continuously expand the breadth of didactics and learning opportunities, setting the stage for nurturing more well-rounded, competent, and resilient future psychiatrists,” explained Dr. Akanbi.

“There’s no greater privilege than training the next generation of psychiatrists, and I am deeply committed to ensuring that every resident who enters our program receives the education and the experience that will enable them to successfully confront the challenges of psychiatry,” said Benjamen Gangewere, DO, Director of the Penn Highlands Psychiatry Residency Program.

In 2022, the Penn Highlands GME Program began offering a Sports Medicine Fellowship Program.
The one-year program enables one new fellow a year to work with some of the region’s best Sports Medicine physicians. It provides opportunities for rotations, one-on-one time with attending physicians, time in the sports medicine clinic, on-site sports care, inpatient care and non-sports ambulatory care.

Dr. Christopher Varacallo, DO, is Program Director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship.

“I am excited to be training future Sports Medicine physicians,” said Dr. Varacallo. “Penn Highlands Healthcare has made a commitment to the area by providing an unprecedented learning environment for a new wave of physicians to care for the people of our region. We are performing cutting-edge, state-of-the-art treatments and we are training our physicians to take these treatments forward with them into their practices. It is an exciting time to be a part of Graduate Medical Education with Penn Highlands Healthcare.”

While the Penn Highlands GME Program provides invaluable hands-on training for physicians, the presence of residents and fellows in the hospital and throughout the health system provides an infusion of new ideas and techniques, benefitting established physicians, other hospital staff members and most importantly patients.

“It is undisputed that patients benefit greatly from our graduate medical education programs,” said Dr. Wilson. “National research shows that hospitals with residency programs offer higher patient satisfaction due to less wait times and improved patient outcomes.”