Winter Haven Hospital Residency Program Graduates Inaugural Class
Graduation season is often a time of reflection and joy about what has been accomplished, and of hope and excitement about the future.
The newly minted family medicine physicians and the program faculty of The Florida State University College of Medicine Family Medicine Residency at BayCare Health System in Winter Haven were all awash in those feelings during their graduation on June 17, held at the historic Ritz Theater.
The graduates – the first set of resident physicians to graduate from the program – have spent the last 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 residents -- Dr. Marvin Dieujuste, Dr. Brian Greene, Dr. Dianna Pham, Dr. Trevor Owens and Dr. Ravi Patel -- did this all with the added challenge of an unfolding global pandemic.
Before they graduated, the program’s founding director Dr. Nathan Falk, noted these residents had been a part of more than 300 births and participated in thousands of clinic visits.
“After meeting the faculty here, I was excited to be a part of starting this program,” said Dr. Greene, one of the graduates. “To be standing here now, it means a lot.”
The program – the first of its kind in Polk County – started as a way to address a severe family physician shortage in Polk County. 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 per 100,000. The goal was to build a residency program and have at least half the class remain in the region to practice.
One hundred percent of Saturday’s graduating class will practice in Central Florida, and four of the five will remain in Polk County.
Although his colleagues all hail originally from Florida, Dr. Greene moved to Winter Haven from Reno, Nev. to join the residency program back in 2020. He is remaining in the area to help open a clinic with Central Florida Health Care in Frostproof.
“My family and I fell in love with this community when we got here and it has everything that we want,” said Dr. Greene. You just sort of bloom where you are planted. I’ve been part of the Rotary Club for many years and was able to continue my involvement here.”
Saturday’s ceremony at the Ritz Theatre in Winter Haven was a celebration of the journey for the graduates and their families, along with the residents. Among those addressing the graduates were Tom Garthwaite, WHH President; Karen Navarra, BayCare’s Director of the Graduate Medical Education program and Alma Littles, the interim Dean of the FSU College of Medicine.
Dr. Falk was the keynote speaker and encouraged the new family medicine doctors to ensure that as they go forth into their new careers, that they remember to be mindful of the spiritual, social and physical aspects of their lives to help build a stable base for their careers.
“Be engaged with your patients,” he told the class. “Give them the best you can, because they deserve it.”
Dr. Falk reflected and acknowledged the road traveled to get to this moment.
“When we started this program in 2018, it was just me in an office at Winter Haven Hospital,” he recalled. “Now we have six faculty members, a pharmacist, a psychology program and 19 residents. So it’s nice to make it to this moment and know we have much more success ahead, for the program, our residents and our community.”
The mission to increase the number of family doctors in the area will continue – next year, a class of six residents are expected to graduate and next month, eight new residents will arrive to start their three-year commitment to the program.