Few Fridays in recent history have garnered more anticipation among Open Door’s executives and excited more nerves than March 15, 2019.

It was Match Day, the day each year when the nation’s medical school graduates learn where they will complete their residencies, and residency programs learn who they will be training. And for the first time ever, Open Door had some skin in the game.

Among those eagerly refreshing the webpage for the Match Day results was Kate Estlin, MD, site medical director at Redwood Community Health Center (RCHC), the home base for the new Family Medicine Residency program.

After decades of discussions, years of earnest development, and heaps of interviews, Open Door would see which—if any—young doctors would join its Family Medicine Residency in its inaugural year.

“We met our goal of interviewing at least a hundred, so I felt good about that,” said Estlin. “But I was really nervous; I didn’t know if we would match all six spots.”

Designed in partnership with St. Joseph Hospital, Open Door’s Family Medicine Residency aims to promote a collaborative spirit among clinicians within our community. But the primary motivation is clear: bringing more family doctors to the North Coast.

With providers in short supply nationwide, recruiting young physicians to our rural community is a challenge. Many of Open Door’s newer providers choose to practice here because they have family ties to the community. Estlin herself grew up in Loleta and Fortuna.

However, nearly half of all residents stay close to where they train. With six new residents per year in the program—totaling 18 residents in the three-year course by 2021—Open Door hopes that three doctors from each annual cohort will stay to live and practice on the North Coast.

But on Match Day, Open Door first needed to fill those residency seats. When the results came in, our program had done just that—matching with six residents.

Katherine Estlin, MD

Kate Estlin, MD

“As soon as the results were posted, we were taking screenshots of the website and texting the other faculty,” said Estlin. “I was so relieved that we matched all six and that we matched so well; I’m excited about the residents that we’re getting.”

From a candidate pool of about 650 applicants, six residents officially start their clinical rotations on July 1. In line with the residency’s clinic-first philosophy, they will begin seeing their own 250-patient panels immediately and continue working with these patients throughout the three-year program.

“Family medicine is about knowing your patients and providing them with continuity of care over time,” Estlin said. By prioritizing primary care over the traditional, hospital-first model, Open Door takes a novel approach with its Family Medicine Residency.

Open Door’s program also breaks with the norm by adopting a longitudinal approach, which splits the curriculum into weeks rather than the more common month-long rotations. For example, the residents will spend a week with a dermatologist learning specialty information that they can then integrate into their own clinics. “So if the residents have more questions over the next couple months,” Estlin notes, “they know that they have another dermatology week coming up. They can add to their knowledge, integrate, add to their knowledge, integrate.”

The program is also the only residency for physicians in the area. Open Door and St. Joseph Hospital can guarantee the residents opportunities to learn from fascinating and complex patient cases that they would not get in more academic, urban areas. These residents will cultivate a breadth of skills as they provide everything from acute care to chronic disease management for patients of all ages—newborns to seniors. And they will also see new prenatal, pediatric, and transgender patients.

Outside of practice in the health center and hospital, the residents will come together for educational sessions—organized by RCHC’s Courtney Ladika, MD, and featuring talks from local specialists. “The offers of support and mentorship for our residents from the community have been outstanding,” Estlin said.

By adhering to rigorous standards of care and demonstrating a dedication to rural health, Open Door, St. Joseph Hospital, and our community have attracted high-quality candidates to our Family Medicine Residency program. Patients within our community will feel the benefits from Day 1 as these bright, young doctors contribute to Open Door’s mission to provide access to health care for all.

Visit the Family Medicine Residency Program page to learn more about the residency’s mission, curriculum, and eligibility criteria. If you or someone you know is in medical school and wants to provide team-based primary care in our rural community on California’s beautiful North Coast, please apply to our program.