Dermatology residency partnership addresses rural specialty needs
Published on Monday, August 14, 2017
By: Ruth CumminsWhen Magnolia Regional Health Center in Corinth wanted to attract a dermatologist to the small north Mississippi town, its leaders knew they’d face a challenge: few medical specialists choose to practice in rural areas.
That need happily intersected with the hopes and dreams of 2017 University of Mississippi School of Medicine graduate Dan Harber (pictured above). In a first-ever partnership between a rural hospital and the Medical Center, Harber will complete a dermatology residency at UMMC that’s funded by Magnolia Regional.
In return, Harber will go back to his Tishomingo County roots and work for the hospital in Alcorn County not 30 minutes up the road from his hometown of Iuka.
“Everyone’s excited about it. It’s just beautiful,” said Harber, 27. “Everyone has so much to gain.”
“This is a win-win-win situation for everyone I can think of,” said Dr. Robert Brodell, professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology. “We’re certainly thrilled about training a dermatologist specifically for an underserved area of the state. There are no dermatologists in that part of Mississippi.”
When Harber and his classmates applied for residencies over the spring, Harber didn’t get his first choice of dermatology, one of the nation’s most competitive residencies. He didn’t give up.
“I talked to Dr. Brodell, and one of the things he mentioned in passing was that if there was a funding source, it was conceivable that we could get a spot here and he would be all for that,” Harber said.
Harber reached out to Magnolia Regional and made a discovery when speaking to the hospital’s physician recruiter. “They were familiar with me. They said I was on their radar for recruitment anyway, me being from there,” he said.
“I asked if they’d be interested in sponsoring a residency position at UMMC, with the expectation that I’d come back to work there afterward. It was an interesting proposal,” Harber said. “Within a week after the match, the ball was rolling.”
In exchange for Magnolia Regional paying his resident salary, Harber will work there for six years following his residency.
“I’ve always planned to go back home,” Harber said. “I never really considered going anywhere else. I love where I’m from and the people, and it’s nice to be close to family. That was always in the cards for me.”
“This was an incredible opportunity for Magnolia Regional Health Center to get a much-needed specialty that will help to meet the needs of the communities we serve,” said Dr. Gene Combest, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “It was also a great opportunity to participate in the continued education and training of a deserving resident.”
Hospitals have only so many slots for dermatology residencies, Brodell said. “We have two funded slots for UMMC and one for the VA Hospital,” he said, plus a fourth slot funded this year by the military for a member of the Air Force.
“Our department, like many departments, has a big enough faculty and enough patients that we could train an additional dermatologist,” Brodell said. “We had a situation where someone matched in internal medicine, but would really have liked to be in dermatology, and a hospital that has been unable to recruit a dermatologist.
“There’s such an unbelievably huge need for dermatologists in Mississippi, and the idea that we might train someone else is right along the lines of the mission of the department and the university itself.”
The unconventional residency is fully approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and UMMC’s compliance team, said Dr. Rick Barr, the Suzan B. Thames Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and senior associate dean of graduate medical education.
“When Dr. Brodell is working on a project, things happen quickly,” Harber said. “I can’t stress enough how much help he was in this process, and as I went through medical school. Dr. Brodell’s commitment to a great outcome for me would not be commonplace in a lot of programs.”
A 2012 graduate of the University of Mississippi, Harber got to know his fiancé, Alli Rhodes, while the two were on the Ole Miss campus. Rhodes is a kindergarten teacher in Oxford “and she was just named new teacher of the year,” Harber said.
They’ll still be within driving distance as he completes a one-year internship at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. The UMMC dermatology residency program includes a first-year internship followed by three years as a hands-on dermatology resident.
The partnership could become a model for other hospitals and a continuing program for Magnolia Regional, Brodell said. “They might come to us in the future and say, ‘This worked great. Why not send us an orthopedic surgeon?’ ”
Not getting your first choice in the matching process can be disappointing, Harber said. But even so, he said, it’s not hard to see the good that came out of his experience.
“It’s not necessarily what you expected, but a good blessing in your life,” Harber said. “I’m glad I’m not halfway across the country, thank goodness. I’m really excited to be able to care for the people from my area.”