Lee Health residency program helping SWFL combat doctor shortage

Tackling a doctor shortage during a pandemic can be a challenge, but Lee Health’s strong residency program is helping Southwest Florida to combat that problem.

Starting his career at Lee Health is like coming home for Dr. Joseph Guernsey, but starting during a pandemic?

“Excitement, also some fear,” he says. “For example, like, my wife is pregnant and so I’d rather not get her sick.”

He’s one of Lee Health’s newest residents and says medical school taught him a lot but, “honestly, nothing can really prepare you for the pandemic.”

Program leaders say the hands-on training with COVID-positive patients and the pandemic itself will prepare these doctors for the future.

“This doesn’t happen very often, but they get to have a front-row seat in this theater of the absurd, this pandemic,” said Dr. Alfred Gitu, program director of the residency program at Lee Health. “It helps them to realize how not just what we do in the hospital matters, not just the pills and the injections that we can give to people, but also how public health plays a part.”

Gitu also says more prepared physicians is something Southwest Florida needs.

“The residency program was started by Lee Health and FSU to address the shortage of primary care physicians in the area,” Gitu said, “We have a shortage even without COVID.”

That’s a challenge Guernsey and his colleagues say they’re prepared to face head-on, despite the unknown.

“It’s the idea of being your brother’s keeper, and I think we have that as Southwest Floridians, we just maybe need to tap into a little bit more than we are right now,” he said, to keep all of us safe now and in the future.

These residents, or medical interns, are not seen as relief workers for current Lee Health staff members dealing with the pandemic, but they will get hands-on experience working with COVID-positive patients in the clinic and the hospital.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Briana Harvath
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