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'Well, why leave?': Two physicians decide to stay in Sumter after completing residency with goal of attracting doctors to underserved, rural areas

The residency program in Sumter started in 2019. Now, the inaugural class has graduated and two of the physicians are staying at Tuomey to serve their community.

SUMTER, S.C. — Prisma Health hopes to attract medical physicians to rural, underserved communities through its Sumter family medicine residency program

The program began in 2019 with four candidates. After graduating this summer, two have decided to stay in Sumter.

"There’s a definite correlation to where people do residency and where they end up practicing," Dr. Rick Stone, the program's director, explained. "Our mission is the rural underserved population of South Carolina. South Carolina has 46 counties. Most are rural, most are underserved and we want to contribute to making a positive difference to the physician availability there."

Now that the first class has graduated, Dr. Stone says the mission is successful as half of the physicians chose to stay at Tuomey to continue serving the community.

"You kind of look for what you’re comfortable with and I guess with being here for so long, I just grew really comfortable with Sumter and all the stuff that was available here and I said, ‘Well, why leave?" physician Richard Huneycutt explained. "You get to know the hospital, you get to know all the specialists, and so it’s like this almost like a very well-knit community here that goes into playing with every aspect of patient care."

This relationship aspect is key, according to Dr. Stone.

"In family residency especially, familiarity can be an important factor," he said. "Family medicine is the broadest of the specialties, so we do take care of all ages, and I mean all ages."

From prenatal care to pediatrics, adolescence, adult and elderly, family physicians form life-long relationships.

"You get to know the physicians, you know the community, sometimes people are getting married then, starting families," Dr. Stone detailed. "So things are starting to gel, people are starting to put down roots wherever they do residency."

Now with this residency program, providers like Huneycutt are meeting the community’s need.

"There’s a big need. Especially with the recent pandemic and also the other stuff, new things are popping up, so it’s good to have, you know, physicians available to take care of patients every day," Huneycutt detailed. "'Cuz the idea is we want to do our best to keep people out of the hospital so that starts with us. And so we need more of us to help everybody out."

Dr. Stone says because the program has been so successful, he’s hoping to expand. In the future, he hopes increase the four physicians the program accepts each year to six residents.

For Huneycutt, Sumter not only proved to be a community he loved. It also gave him lots of experience.

"In kind of a rural community around here, there’s definitely a lot of different pathologies. You work with the underserved, you work with people who don’t have regular access to healthcare, so you learn a lot," Huneycutt shared. "You see a lot of stuff you wouldn’t see everywhere else and that kind of teaches you how to work with a little to help the patient as much as you can."

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