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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | June 26, 2009

Final family practice residency class bids adieu to patients

By Ben Newell Air Force District of Washington staff writer

Robert Decent, a 15-year Navy civil servant with 21 years of active military service could go to any number of hospitals between Andrews and his Annapolis, Md., home. 

He first came to the 779th Medical Operations Squadron Family Practice Residency Program, passing at least 12 medical facilities on his way, when his shoulder began aching on the job. He came to get a cortisone shot from a Malcolm Grow Medical Center resident. 

"In my 36 years with the Navy," said Mr. Decent, "this is flat-out the best care I've ever received." 

Mr. Decent in part owes the care he's received to Col. (Dr.) Robert Manaker, director of the Family Practice Medical Center. Since taking over the residency program in June 2005, the colonel has slowly pared down the program, which took a hit in the May 2005 Base Realignment and Closure. The center will be replaced with a similar residency program at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. 

In 2005, Colonel Manaker could have simply posted a closure date and moved all the patients to alternate care providers. Instead, he kept the doors open for an extra three years, allowing this graduating class of residents to receive most of their training on Andrews at MGMC. 

"I wanted them to get an educational experience here with this excellent staff and this set of patients," said Colonel Manaker. "It would be hard to top that experience, so it was important to maintain the program." 

On June 12, the class held a formal graduation at The Club on Andrews. In August, the program will be taken over by the Family Health Clinic at MGMC, a move most patients and doctors view as bittersweet. The program has trained 315 residents in a psychiatric and family medicine program. This year's graduating class of six family practice physicians and three psychiatry residents will be the last. 

"We'll be losing some great care givers," said Senior Master Sgt. Annette Wingo of the 113th Wing, whose daughter was in for a minor procedure on her foot. "However, we know a lot of the doctors who are coming in and it's going to be okay." 

Fresh out of college, most new residents don't get a chance to develop a relationship with their patients while in school. That changes during a residency program, where patients help doctors work on bedside manner, and learn the importance of explaining steps taken during a seemingly routine procedure. Though caseloads often exceed 400 patients, many residents have become close with their patients. 

"I'm getting deployed to Korea after this," said Capt. (Dr.) Miriam Dinatale, one of the residents, "but many of my patients want to know when I'm coming back so they can come to my clinic." 

Colonel Manaker has witnessed something special between the residents themselves. "I really believe these residents have a relationship similar to what you see in Airmen who have been on deployment together," said Colonel Manaker. "The fact that this clinic was closing and that they were the last class helped glue them together in a great way." 

The nursing staff, which stays in the clinic as the residents filter in and out, expressed a universal fondness for this class. "We're just blown away by how hands-on this class is," said Leslie Struble, a licensed practical nurse. While all but one of the LPN's and RN's will be staying at Malcolm Grow, all residents and most of the staff of doctors will be moving on due to deployment, or retiring. On Tuesday, the entire program will be absorbed by the Family Health Clinic. 

In addition to the family practice residents, the clinic has a history of teaching psychiatry students who get the unique opportunity to deal with service veterans and the issues confronted by families. Some psychiatric residency programs within the hospital will remain after the Family Practice Residency Program is closed. The three Family Psychiatry residents, who work in conjunction with Family Practice residents will also be the last to receive residency training at MGMC.