Adventist Health Ukiah Valley celebrates Incubate Project
“An increased supply of primary care physicians is associated with better population health and more equitable outcomes. …it is essential to have a primary care physician who knows you…who can tran… The Incubate Project in Mendocino County, California, has celebrated the launch of the Family Medicine Residency Program due to a shortage of local and national primary care physicians throughout the U.S. The project was spearheaded by Dr. Mimi Doohan, who recently returned to the county back in 2015, and spearheaded a residency program to train new doctors in the specialty of Family Medicine. The team spent October to January in the selection of multiple graduate medical students, screening over 400 applicants, inviting 160 for interviews, interviewing 122 and ranking 95. All six positions were filled from their list of preferred candidates. The goal of the program is to retain 30 percent, two out of six for each year.
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“An increased supply of primary care physicians is associated with better population health and more equitable outcomes. …it is essential to have a primary care physician who knows you…who can transform the lives of patients with a nuanced blend of careful listening, emotional connection and medical skill.” – 2021 report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
With the critical scarcity of local and national primary care physicians throughout the U.S. (according to Harvard Health Publishing, the country is expected to face a shortage ranging from 21,000 to 55,000 by 2033), Dr. Mimi Doohan, newly returned to the county back in 2015, took the bull by the horns and spearheaded a residency program to train new doctors in Mendocino County in the specialty of Family Medicine; soon thereafter, she and a group of doctors secured a partnership with Adventist Health Ukiah Valley to create the Family Medicine Residency Program.
After a large community fundraising effort, development of faculty and curriculum, connecting with health care facilities throughout Mendocino and Lake Counties, UC Davis Medical School, Stanford Medical School and Mendocino College Nursing Program; and gaining accreditation with the Council for Graduate Medical Education, the first class of six physicians took up residency in the county in 2019 to begin the three-year training required to specialize in Family Medicine to become certified as primary care physicians by the National Board of Family Medicine.
On Friday afternoon, the Glenn Miller Conference Room at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley – amidst balloons, an inviting buffet and wrapped gifts – was aglow with bubbling conversation and heartfelt camaraderie among doctors, faculty, hospital staff, administrators and supportive community members gathered together to celebrate their own and honor physician residents from the classes of ’23, ’24 and ’25 and unveil the fifth cohort of intern physicians who will arrive in July.
“It’s called Match Day,” explains Jody Parungoa, director of the Family Medicine Residency Program, (formerly my doctor and an exceptional one at that).
The team spent October to January in the selection of multiple graduate medical students, screening over 400 applicants, inviting 160 for interviews, interviewing 122 and ranking 95.
With the use of a very complicated, national, computerized algorithmic system for assigning medical school graduates to residency programs, each ranking the other as desirable or not, the faculty heard on Monday that all six positions were filled from their list of preferred candidates. The reveal took place that afternoon.
“We’re looking for physicians who are dedicated to the underserved and rural medicine, those interested in full spectrum medicine—outpatient, inpatient hospital treatment, OB/Gyn, addiction, lifestyle, sports. We include everything; this is a rare program in the country right now,” says Parungoa.
“There’s a huge shortage of primary care physicians in Mendocino County – very common in rural areas – with a lot of doctors retiring. It’s estimated that we need over 14 providers in this county to fill the need. A lot of people are not coming for care because of the lack of access to it. With the Family Medicine Residency Program, we bring six physicians here every year, hoping they will love the area, become invested in the community and want to stay. Our goal is to retain 30 percent, two out of six for each year.
“This year’s interns are very diverse, highly competitive candidates from different parts of the country with differing backgrounds. They will bring a lot of different strengths to our community.”
David Leighton, president of AHUV, and Cici Winiger, marketing and communication manager of AHUV, address the present-day crux of the matter.
“We have to make sure we involve our community, in addition to support provided by the hospital, to help welcome our new physician interns to fit in,” he says.
“We all need to be involved in helping build those connections,” she says. “Do they need help with babysitting? Kids have friends and when kids make friends, the community embraces them and they are going to want to stay. It’s all about relationships,” she says.
A national speaker, an expert in recruitment in rural communities, was invited to speak and from this was born the Incubate Project.
His presentation and other studies have shown that the greater the role the community plays in supporting resident physicians, helping them integrate, the greater the possibility they will plant roots and stay.
As part of the project, they interviewed doctors and their spouses asking what it was like moving here, what were their challenges. Many said they did not feel welcome; that moving from a new area, they were unable to make friends.
Although it’s partially the nature of the beast (so to speak) of a rural community and the additional onslaught of COVID in the last few years, Winiger asks, how do we break the barriers?
“Sometimes it’s just going for it, making the connections. A lot of people have never interacted with their doctors outside of being a patient. Sadly, we learned our lesson from our first cohort – no one stayed – that we can do better. By implementing the Incubate Project, we’re hoping that community members will make our new interns feel more welcome, creating an environment for their families to want to stay.”
And finally, we turn to Daphne MacNeil, major mover and shaker, co-chair of the Incubate Task Force, lead liaison to recruit and retain medical providers.
“Over the years,” she says, “we’ve heard that a scarcity of appropriate housing has contributed to people leaving, that it’s been difficult for their spouses to find employment at the level of their proficiencies; that they are experiencing loneliness, that it’s hard to break into a community that’s already well-established.
“My role is to be a facilitator, to help new residents connect to organizations and individuals so they can make friends outside the hospital community and learn to love our county, the way we do.”
New interns, class of 2026: Scot Brunner, MD (Mineral Bluff, Georgia) Mercer University, enjoys blacksmithing, gardening, scuba diving; Yohann Greaves, MD (Bridgetown, Barbados) Universidad de Montemorelos, enjoys traveling, cultural immersion, table and lawn tennis; Leah Hannon, MD (San Francisco, California) Kirk Kerkorian-UNLV, passionate about animal and environmental welfare, holistic rehabilitation; Shilpa Mulukutla, DO (Palo Alto, California) Western University, enjoys water color painting, traveling, and is a classical pianist; Joshua Roque, MD (Moss Point, Mississippi) University of Mississippi, enjoys playing piano, hiking, traveling, reading; Sanchala Sehgal MD (Fremont, California) Keck-USC, enjoys figure skating, dancing, repurposing.