HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – The Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine has received a $750,000 grant to help support the planning and development of the first rural surgery residency program in the Mountain State.

University officials say the three-year grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) and will be administered through the Marshall Community Health Consortium.

According to the university, the grant Marshall is receiving is one of nine that have been awarded as part of the HRSA Rural Residency Planning and Development Program in an effort to address a shortage in the physician workforce of rural communities. It is the first of these grants to be awarded for a rural surgery residency program.

University officials say the Association of American Medical Colleges expects a shortage of 23,100 and 31,600 general surgeons by 2025.

“The areas that will, undoubtedly, suffer most from a surgeon shortage are our rural communities,” said Paulette S. Wehner, M.D., vice dean of graduate medical education at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and principal investigator on the grant. “Research indicates that a resident is more likely to practice in the state of their residency training. By providing training in a rural setting, we hope many will opt to stay in West Virginia after their residency and practice in a community-based hospital.”

According to the Marshall officials, the Consortium, composed of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, Marshall Health, Cabell Huntington Hospital, Valley Health and Holzer Health Systems, will partner with Logan Regional Medical Center to develop a curriculum, and recruit faculty. The 132-bed acute care facility will also help address what critical environment learning needs must be met to establish an accredited rural surgery residency program.

“While the basic principles remain the same, rural surgery requires a wide spectrum of care that is different from what trainees experience in an urban academic medical center,” said Farzad Amiri, M.D., F.A.C.S., a general surgeon and associate professor at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, who will serve as director of the program. 

Jodi M. Cisco-Goff, M.D., F.A.C.S., general surgeon and assistant professor at Marshall, will serve as the program’s associate director, the university says. She has been practicing in southern West Virginia for nearly 20 years.

The university says the residents will spend at least half of their five-year training residency in a rural hospital as part of the program.

“As we think about the next generation of surgeons in West Virginia, we must proactively consider how our medical school can provide West Virginians with the best possible access to surgical care,” said David A. Denning, M.D., F.A.C.S., professor and chair of the department of surgery. “Dr. Cisco-Goff and her staff will play an integral part in building the rural residency program from the ground up. Rural access to surgery across the U.S. has reached crisis level, and it is exciting to be the first in the nation chosen by HRSA to address the surgeon shortage in this way.”

The grant requirements include submitting a rural surgery residency application to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education by 2024. The university says the current planning proposal, they are aiming for the training program to receive initial accreditation in 2022 and bring in the first residents in July 2023. They say they plan to phase in new residents each year until they reach a maximum complement of 15 residents.

For more information on the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine’s residency programs, visit the school’s website.