M.D. in hand, but staying close to home

June 6, 2013

The Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine has a strong track record of training family medicine doctors to serve in Texas communities. Eighty-five percent of the college’s trained doctors are currently practicing in the state, and this year’s graduating class will head to more primary care residencies (family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine and ob/gyn) than to all other specialties combined.

One 2013 graduate planning to stay in Texas and serve in primary care is Jennifer Roncallo. She began her residency in family medicine at McLennan County Family Medicine in Waco, Texas, this past summer.

“I chose to do my residency in Texas because Texas has a lot of options for family medicine residencies, including some of the best programs in the country,” Roncallo said. “I think Texas is also a great place to learn how to be a primary care physician. We get to work with many different groups of people and learn about their culture’s attitude towards health care.”

Surveys suggest a majority of physicians remain in the states where they complete their residencies. With a nationwide doctor shortage anticipated over the next decade, states with a significant investment in residency programs tend to keep more of their graduates in state for their residencies.

Roncallo, a Texas native who received her undergraduate degree from Baylor University, plans to practice in a smaller Texas community once her residency is complete.

“I would like to come back to the Austin area after my residency,” Roncallo said. “Right now, the type of practice I would like to have would be located in a smaller town, in a more rural area. I have been thinking about somewhere like Marble Falls or even Llano.”

Dr. Roane McLaughlin, Texas A&M College of Medicine Class of '85, stands with her son, Jared Ham, who is now in his second year of medical school.

Dr. Roane McLaughlin, Texas A&M College of Medicine Class of ’85, stands with her son, Jared Ham, who is now in his second year of medical school.

Doctors who practice in smaller communities often cite the sense of community, and their role in it, as among the most satisfying things about being a physician. Dr. Roane McLaughlin, Texas A&M College of Medicine Class of 1985, certainly thinks so. An obstetrician and gynecologist in Gainesville, Texas, she has had her own private practice there for nearly 25 years. She completed her residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.

“Because I work in a smaller community, I get to know my patients,” Dr. McLaughlin said. “I actually get to know generations of patients. It is such a small town that in some instances I’ve delivered a baby whose mother and father I also delivered!”

Many rural physicians could cite experiences like these as reasons they’re glad they chose to serve in a smaller community. But Dr. McLaughlin’s story has an additional twist: Her son, Jared Ham, is on his way to becoming not only a second-generation physician but also a second-generation Texas A&M College of Medicine graduate.

Mother and son were delighted to discover that Jared, now in his second year of training at the college, was even taking his first-year Gross Anatomy course from the same anatomist who trained Dr. McLaughlin back in 1982—Dr. Wayne Sampson, who has taught anatomy at at the college for 34 years before retiring at the end of this academic year. As a first-year medical student, she completed her anatomy lab at the college’s College Station campus while pregnant with Jared.

Like many students in their first year of medical school, Ham is not sure what specialty he would like to pursue after graduation or where he would like to practice.

“There is a lot to be said for working in a small town, but I’m leaving this one open until I get a specialty pinned down,” Ham said. “I would really like to practice in Texas, but that’s another aspect that I think will be secondary to where I do my residency training, at least until residency is over and I’m licensed.”

Regardless of where he heads after graduation, Ham is happy with his decision to be continuing the Texas A&M tradition.

“So far, my experiences have borne out my expectations. It really feels like a family; everyone is so supportive,” Ham said. “Plus it’s pretty cool that my mom went here, too. Every now and then, I head up to the fourth floor where they keep the pictures of all the graduating classes to see my mom’s picture in the Class of 1985.”

— Jeremiah McNichols

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