Efforts are underway in Baldwin County to combat a state-wide doctor shortage in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Infirmary Health is now training physicians at Thomas Hospital in Fairhope as the system launches a residency program for the first time.
Dr. David Clarkson, Director of Infirmary Health's Internal Medicine Residency Program, said coronavirus cases are shining a light on the need for more home-grown physicians who will stay in the area.
According to Clarkson, 13 new physicians are getting on-the-job training at Thomas Hospital in Fairhope.
"The COVID epidemic has really highlighted the fact that we have insufficient numbers of primary care physicians and internists who are really on the front line," said Dr. Clarkson.
Dr. Clarkson said the program is just one of only 10 in Alabama. He said only about 20% of university educated doctors typically remain in the state, and they're trying to improve those odds.
"They will spend about half their time on the inpatients at Thomas Hospital. They'll spend time in the emergency room," added Dr. Clarkson, "And they'll spend time in the intensive care unit, where they care for patients that might be on ventilators."
Dr. Clarkson said the physicians, who are from all over the country, are also learning how to wear personal protective equipment and will be trained in more than a dozen internal medicine subspecialties.
According to Dr. Clarkson, the additional knowledge is even more important during a pandemic because more physicians are helping anywhere they're needed.
"We're really proud of the qualifications of these residents. It's been harder to attract talented, well trained, and certified internists to rural areas. So we're hopeful they'll stay in the state," Dr. Clarkson said.
Dr. Clarkson said the physicians will qualify for a board certification exam at the end of the three-year program.