Victoria's two regional medical centers provide the heart of the Crossroads.

Along with providing many good jobs, DeTar and Citizens hospitals offer critical medical care to those living outside the large urban centers. Crossroads residents know well the many benefits of living away from the big cities, but one downside in many rural areas is the lack of adequate medical care.

Fortunately, DeTar Healthcare System and Citizens Medical Center have long been the answer in the Crossroads. Their care promises to get even better, thanks to an innovative program being pioneered at DeTar.

The community celebrated last week a new residency program started by DeTar and the Texas A&M College of Medicine. It is an exciting way to keep the critical flow of physicians coming to the region.

Much credit for the new program goes to Bill Blanchard, DeTar's longtime CEO in Victoria; Cliff Thomas, a Victoria businessman now serving at A&M Regent chairman; and A&M Chancellor John Sharp, a Victoria County native. This powerful trio worked together to put Victoria at the forefront in promoting medical care in more rural areas.

The deal, in the works for more than four years, is coming to reality with the arrival of the first six residents to the Family Medicine Residency Program. Victoria businessman Dennis Patillo invited community leaders to a reception Thursday at The Sendera to thank Sharp, Thomas and Blanchard and to welcome the new residents.

Many thanks also should go to Patillo, who serves on DeTar's Board of Trustees, for developing the idea with Sharp. Longtime Victoria surgeon Dr. Peter Rojas also was heavily involved.

The new program is designed to provide a steady flow of primary care physicians to the region. Studies show about 60 percent of doctors set up practice in the same city where they complete their residency.

That's critical because Victoria and the rest of the country have a rapidly aging doctor population.

The average age of a primary care physician in the Victoria area is 53 years old. In addition, 13 out of 40 primary care physicians will be over the age of 65 when the first class of residents graduates.

To address this, DeTar entered into a four-year, $7.4 million contract with the Health Sciences Center to serve as consultant and employ the faculty of the residency program. A&M's largest contribution has been the recruitment of program director Dr. Sidney Ontai, who has hired three faculty members and achieved accreditation for the program. Dr. Ontai also has brought tremendous energy and vision to Victoria.

In addition, Ontai and his faculty and Victoria physicians have mentored dozens of medical students so that they would go back to their medical schools and tell fellow students about the program at DeTar.

As a result, more than 1,000 applied for the program, leading to almost 100 interviews by faculty, physicians and hospital staff. This enabled the program to land its top choices for the first six residents.

Such vision, commitment and leadership will help ensure the health care of the Crossroads for decades to come.

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

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