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Graduates of Winter Haven Hospital Residency Program Stay Local Adding Much-Needed Health Care in the County 

October 5, 2023 News

Winter Haven Hospital’s young family medicine residency program has just graduated to the next level – it sent five recent graduates into the workforce, and all are staying in the Polk County area. 

“This feels like a great accomplishment. When this program started, it was just me in an office by myself. Now we have six faculty members, a pharmacist, a psychology program and 22 residents,” said Dr. Nathan Falk, program director since the 2018 inception of The Florida State University College of Medicine Family Medicine Residency at BayCare Health System in Winter Haven. 

The Program

In 2018, Winter Haven Hospital announced it was partnering with FSU. Through their partnership, they planned to create a program to recruit doctors to do their residencies in Polk County. After completing their residencies, doctors would be encouraged to remain in the area. Thereby increasing the number of primary care physicians here. In turn, that would improve residents’ access to primary care.  

All five residents in the program’s first graduating class stayed local. This includes Dr. Dianna Pham, a recently graduated resident physician. Dr. Pham is now seeing patients at the BayCare Medical Group’s Auburndale Family Health Center on U.S. 92.  

“It’s been nice seeing patients here over the years and watching the residents build relationships with them as well,” Falk said. “Our goal is to keep at least half of the graduates in the area upon graduation, and we had four of five stay in Polk County and all five in Central Florida, which is really outstanding.”  

The federal government has designated Polk County – and every other county in Florida – as a “Health Professional Shortage Area,” meaning they do not have enough doctors to meet the healthcare needs of residents. The national average of 90 primary-care doctors per 100,000 people is still low, but in Polk, it’s estimated to be about 50 doctors per 100,000 residents. 

Before they graduated in June, the residents spent three years learning about what it means to provide extraordinary care to the community. That’s meant rotating in various units, odd shifts and building connections with each other and in Polk County. 

The Director’s Overview

Falk easily points to the highlights from the past three years. “For me, seeing a resident grow from a medical student to a board-certified family physician has been very exciting. Seeing the amount of growth, both personally and professionally, is thrilling.” 

Growing the program is already occurring, he said. “Next summer we will graduate six residents. We also had the opportunity to expand, so we will graduate eight residents per class for each year after that.” 

Falk said he’s thankful for the program’s “critical partnerships, which were a crucial part of ensuring its success. Partnering with the Florida State University College of Medicine, multiple community and hospital physicians, Winter Haven Hospital leadership and the Winter Haven Hospital Foundation has helped us develop and grow this program into a model of success, bringing key healthcare resources to our community for years to come.” 

Pham’s Story

Pham said she initially was attracted to the program because it’s in her hometown. “It is my home base and I’ve witnessed the health disparities, so I would like to help bridge this gap just a bit closer.” 

But there were also two other reasons: “I stayed for the faculty team’s kindness and clinical skills, and I cherish the friendships made in residency and would like to keep close by.”   

The two most important things she learned during the residency?  

  • “You don’t need to know everything; you just need to know where to find the information quickly.” 
  • “Confidence comes from repetition.” 

And the highlight of the program? “The program exemplifies the ideal work culture – a supportive close-knit family, a healthy work-life balance, and having fun while working.” 

The program has been receptive to feedback and, “most importantly, consistently proactive about it,” Pham said. 

The newly graduated doctor has a bit of advice to those coming after her: ““Trust your attendings and trust yourself to bring you to your full clinical potential by the end of it all.” 

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