In February 2015, officials announced the creation of the DeTar Healthcare System Family Medicine Residency program, which was offered in collaboration with the Texas A&M Health Science Center. The program had received approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

The three-year program was designed to address a critical need for more primary care physicians in South Texas, and in April 2016, it welcomed its first six residents.

“The Family Medicine Residency Program in Victoria will play a key role in the development of a comprehensive physician workforce solution for the entire state,” Dr. Paul Ogden, interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine, said at that time.

“Texas A&M is piecing together the puzzle, working with partners like DeTar to develop new programs to alleviate the current primary care shortage, and thus ensuring that all Texans are getting the best care possible.”

Three years after its inception, the DeTar Healthcare System Family Medicine Residency program has proven to be successful and a valuable asset to the region.

The program has brought 26 practicing family medicine physicians to Victoria while they complete their residency. And of the first graduating class of six physicians, three doctors have taken jobs in Victoria – Dr. Daniel Espinosa, Dr. Chike Ochieze and Dr. Sandra Nweke.

The importance of this program and its continuation cannot be stressed enough.

The residency is one of a number of solutions that Texas public health officials are green-lighting in an attempt to stave the pending – and in some cases, ongoing – doctor shortage throughout the state.

Texas will be short almost 3,400 physicians by 2030 to adequately serve the population, according to a 2018 report from the state health department, and the state already has fewer primary care physicians than the national average, according to federal data.

Many Americans, including Crossroads residents, don’t have a primary care doctor.

“We have to change the perception so people know that you need a doctor who knows you, not a walk-in clinic, not an emergency room, because those are not an efficient delivery of health care,” said Dr. Mark Stevens, who helped build DeTar’s residency program, which has brought 26 practicing family medicine physicians to Victoria.

Another benefit from the program also deserves the spotlight as well as praise from the community.

Nweke – one of the three doctors remaining in Victoria – has established a free health clinic where she and other physicians once a month help people who might otherwise stay sick because they are either uninsured or underinsured.

Nweke, a Houston native, said she was drawn to Victoria because she was looking to practice medicine outside a big city where she could really connect with the community. She was looking to develop relationships with patients that might be harder to maintain in a bigger city with a higher patient volume.

“I wanted to be like that family physician that you hear about that you actually get to be close with the whole family, you know everything about them, you take care of them from when they’re little to when you’re older,” Nweke said.

As she neared the end of her residency, Nweke decided to stay in Victoria because of the connections she had made with patients, the medical community, as well as a desire to continue growing the free clinic, which was quickly embraced by social workers and patients in need in Victoria. The clinic has become so popular that some patients are turned away because there aren’t enough physicians to treat them, Nweke said. She hopes that with more resources, the clinic can grow to see more patients, be open more frequently, and even expand to locations in outlying counties in the Crossroads.

We wish Nweke every success.

And we applaud the DeTar Healthcare System Family Medicine Residency program, the Texas A&M Health Science Center and all the doctors who come to Victoria to learn and to help our residents stay healthy.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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