LifestyleYour Health Matters


Billings Clinic announces rural surgical residency track

Posted at 8:29 AM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 10:29:22-05

BILLINGS - Billings Clinic announced Thursday it has partnered with the University of Arizona-Phoenix to bring surgery resident physicians to train in Montana and Wyoming. The program is the state's first general surgical residency rural track with a focus on rural care, the hospital said in a press release.

"General surgeons are a crucial part of the medical workforce in rural areas across Montana and Wyoming. Having enough surgeons who can provide quick, sometimes life-saving procedures has a profound effect on the health of patients in rural communities and allows them and their families to stay close to home when they need care," the press release states. "Montana is facing a growing need for more surgeons, especially in rural areas. More than three quarters of the state’s physicians are concentrated in the seven most populated cities, where just more than a third of the population lives. Additionally, a recent estimate from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that half of the state’s general surgeons are age 60 or older."

Called the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix General Surgical Residency Rural Track-Billings Clinic, fourth-year resident physicians will spend a year training at Billings Clinic. While at Billings Clinic, residents will be immersed in trauma and general surgery programs and will receive training with subspecialty service lines such as neurosurgery, urology, orthopedics and Obstetrics/Gynecology. They will also have the opportunity to practice and continue learning in rural critical access hospitals in the region.

Billings Clinic announced Thursday Montana’s first general surgical residency rural track.

“This is the first program of its kind in Montana and we are thrilled to offer this opportunity for resident physicians to gain critical training that will help them succeed in meeting the needs of rural communities,” said Gordon Riha, MD, Billings Clinic trauma surgeon. “This creates a broad, outstanding educational opportunity while helping surgeons who want to practice in rural areas. It enhances existing services and education, bolsters critical access hospital capabilities and introduces new surgeons to our amazing communities.”

The goal of this one-year experience is to provide the training needed to enter practice in a rural setting. The first resident arrives in June of 2022, and the inaugural year will see three residents come to Billings Clinic.

Billings Clinic has a long history of sending surgeons to rural critical access hospitals in Montana and Wyoming for outreach that both supports those hospitals and reduces the burden of patient travel, and the residency rotations will enhance those efforts.

“We want to expose residents to a multitude of surgical and critical care training in the state of Montana so that they have the breadth of experience that a true general surgeon needs,” said Billings Clinic CEO Scott Ellner, DO, FACS, who is also a trained general surgeon. “This rotation will give them confidence in caring for patients coming from a rural or frontier setting, and it will bring an important resource to the communities we serve.”

Recruiting trained surgeons to practice in the region is also a key goal of the residency. An AAMC study indicated that between 2010 and 2019, Montana retained 63 percent of the medical residents trained in the state, 10 percent higher than the national average.

The surgical residency further bolsters Billings Clinic’s long-standing focus on graduate medical education that meets the needs of the region it serves. It currently houses and sponsors its Internal Medicine Residency; has partnered with the University of Washington on Montana’s first psychiatry residency; and co-sponsors the Montana Family Medicine Residency and the Montana Rural Critical Care Fellowship. Billings Clinic also offers nursing and pharmacy residency programs.

Once fully implemented, residents who choose the general surgical rural track will come to Billings Clinic after spending their first three years at the University of Arizona’s Phoenix Integrated Surgical Residency. The University of Arizona residency works to train confident and technically proficient surgeons, while helping residents establish a healthy work/life balance; fosters an educational environment that recognizes social determinants of health and health care inequities to train residents to improve patient care in the face of those challenges; and develops residents as leaders. This is accomplished through state-of-the-art training facilities and teaching hospitals, unique rotation offerings, robust and innovative curriculum, as well as several other programs within the residency.