Twelve internal medicine residents Tuesday each received the ultimate symbol of doctoring — the coveted white coat.
The coat symbolizes a hard journey toward gaining admission to the world of medicine. It signifies competence, communication, caring, curiosity, character and community.
“It means a lot,” said Sierra Gross, 29. “It’s a symbol of another successful step toward our goal of becoming a physician.”
Gross majored in biology at the University of Nevada Reno. She attended medical school at the University of Medicine and Health Sciences, St. Kitts and will complete her three-year internal medicine residency at Billings Clinic.
“I chose Billings Clinic because of Dr. Roger Bush (program director), the faculty, the hospital and the state-of-the-art equipment,” Gross said. “It made my decision very easy. This is an exciting opportunity for the community and for us residents.”
Billings Clinic held its White Coat Ceremony at the Mary Alice Fortin Health Conference Center to welcome the inaugural class of internal medicine residents to the program, a diverse group of 12 students from around the globe.
The ceremony reaffirms the community’s support of the educational process that prepares future health care professionals for practice. On this day, students pledge their commitment to their professions and to the health of the patients they will serve.
"This is truly a landmark day," said Dr. Nicholas Wolter, CEO of Billings Clinic.
After each of the residents received his or her coat, Billings Clinic physicians joined the residents in reciting the Hippocratic Oath. The residents were greeted with thunderous applause.
The ceremony marked the start of the first internal medicine residency program in Montana. The program is designed to address the primary care shortage by training general internal medicine physicians to stay in the region.
Billings Mayor Tom Hanel said the Internal Medicine Residency program "goes far beyond the city of Billings," noting that many of them are expected to stay in Montana to help fill the gap in primary care physicians.
According to the Montana Primary Care office, as of October 2013:
— Nine counties in Montana are without any physician.
— 12 counties are without a primary care physician.
— Seven counties are without a hospital.
— An estimated 27,331 Montanans live in counties without primary care physicians.
“These physicians in advanced training will bring fresh ideas, new energy, and bold creativity to our inter-professional care teams,” said Bush, Internal Medicine Residency program director.
“They will be the leaders of care teams, improvement efforts and organizational initiatives as we design our primary care model around a clinical learning environment. Patients will benefit from strong personal relationships, and a sense of trust, safety and reliability.”
David Stordahl, 27, is a Billings native. He attended both Rocky Mountain College and the University of Montana where he graduated with a degree in health, human performance and exercise science. He attended medical school at Creighton University School of Medicine. Stordahl will complete his one year of internal medicine at Billings Clinic before moving on to an anesthesiology program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, a natural fit.
In January 2013, Billings Clinic announced that it had entered into a one-year, renewable agreement with the Mayo Clinic Care Network, a nationwide affiliation of health organizations. The contract has since been renewed.
Stordahl’s first experience with Billings Clinic was in the summer of 2009 when he was a job shadow while an undergraduate. He was paired with physicians in radiology, pediatrics, general surgery and orthopedics.
“I had a great experience, fit in well and was impressed with the variety of patients the Clinic services, how hard the physicians work and how committed they are to their patients,” Stordahl said. “This was an opportunity to come home. I knew the Clinic and knew it was a great hospital. The fact that this is a new program was exciting.”
Following the ceremony, the residents will complete two weeks of orientation before they start participating actively in the care of patients alongside residency faculty in the hospital and clinic. Over the course of the program, residents will progressively assume responsibility for the care of their patients.
Eight of the residents will be enrolled in the program for three years. Four of them will spend a year at Billings Clinic before going on to finish their chosen specialty area in radiology, anesthesiology or physical medicine and rehabilitation.