Medical residency programs always bring and require what Dr. Timothy Heath calls an “intensity of experience” as young physicians make their way through real-life training.
Add the rigors and challenges of dealing with the recent pandemic and coping with situations not seen in a century. The reality of it all is testing 14 physician residents under Heath’s supervision in ways no one imagined.
“I’ve spoken to colleagues and I can say our story is dramatically different,” said Dr. Baron Ekeledo, one of the residents of the UTRGV Internal Medicine Residency Program at Knapp Medical Center in Weslaco. “We’re still learning about this pandemic. It can be scary but we’re taking on the challenge.”
Ekeledo and the other 13 residents are the inaugural class of the Internal Medicine Residency Program, focusing on adult and geriatric care. It is an addition to the UTRGV/Knapp Family Residency Program. The two programs combined will eventually bring more than 30 resident physicians to the Mid-Valley.
Heath is the Internal Medicine Residency’s program director. He says these efforts are fulfilling the mission of the UTRGV School of Medicine to bring expertise and services to the Rio Grande Valley.
“We’re training doctors that will stay in the Valley and take care of the community,” Heath said. “That’s the mission of the UTRGV medical program, which is to help those in need.”
Thrust Into A Crisis
The Internal Medicine Residency Program at Knapp is a three-year program. Its launch came in July 2020 when area hospitals were treating a rush of patients. The recent medical school graduates stepping into their residency program years were thrust into the middle of it all.
“That was the panorama we faced,” said Dr. Denis Gutierrez. “We weren’t use to seeing so many patients. There were a lot of code blues.”
Heath praised Gutierrez, Ekeledo and the other physician residents for the manner and poise they demonstrated in dealing with the summer crisis and for their ongoing progression through the program.
“Our residents have done a phenomenal job,” Heath said. “It’s tough on the residents in being the go-between patients and their families. It takes a lot of emotional strength to tell their loved ones that they aren’t doing well when the hospitals aren’t allowing visits.
“These bright individuals have taken it upon themselves to do great work during some very tough times,” he said of the residents.
Unity and Kindness
Residency programs bring together young medical professionals from around the world with diverse backgrounds. The Internal Medicine Residency Program at Knapp fits that description. Gutierrez is the son and grandson of physicians in Mexico and grew up in the border city of Camargo. Ekeledo is a native of Nigeria who was raised in England and previously lived in Houston. Both residents knew from an early age they wanted to be physicians. They are grateful of the honor to be among the first class in the new Internal Medicine Program.
“We’re setting the precedent of how the program is going to be followed,” Ekeledo said. “We want to work together and help each other out.”
Heath, the program director, said he advises the young physicians to go beyond science and medicine in learning the best practices of the profession they have entered.
“Kindness is a word I use and emphasize,” Heath said. “Practice kindness to the patients and their families. Practice kindness to your colleagues and to yourself. Beyond the medicine and science, there’s a need to listen to your patients and what they have to say.”
The physician residents appear to be taking that advice well. Heath expressed confidence in the medical professionals the new program will produce.
“I’m going to hand off the baton to the next generation of physicians that will continue to provide care and improve health care in our community,” he said.
The resident physicians and the new Internal Medicine Program are accepting appointments and seeing new patients at a clinic site at the Knapp Medical Plaza at 1330 East 6th Street, Suite 105 in Weslaco.