SEBRING, Fla. — AdventHealth is bringing its first Tampa Bay area residency program to Highlands County, part of an effort to address the need for more doctors in rural areas.
“I’m here today. It’s like a dream come true for me, to be honest,” said Dr. Sulekho Egal.
Dr. Egal’s journey wasn’t easy. She left Somalia due to political unrest and moved to the United States with her family in 1999. When she finally had the chance, she pursued her dream of being a doctor.
Dr. Egal is now part of AdventHealth Sebring’s Family Medicine Residency program.
“I’m very excited. I can’t wait,” said Dr. Egal. “I can’t wait to interact, to be back on the floor, patient care, talking to my attendings, learning from them, learning from the nurses.”
The program is a big deal for the area as well.
“It’s the first residency program in Sebring,” said Dr. Kevin Sherin, the residency program director. “It’s the first residency program in AdventHealth in the West Central Florida area.”
Dr. Sherin says in general across the country, rural areas have a hard time attracting and retaining doctors.
“Sebring is a health professional shortage area. Much of our state is, so we need quality primary care physicians in this county and in these rural areas of Florida,” said Sherin. “That’s part of the mission: to meet the need of the community.”
According to the National Rural Health Association, it states "the patient to primary care physician ratio in rural areas is only 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53.3 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas."
Dr. Sherin explained if you can’t find and attract doctors to come to rural areas, people could go without adequate healthcare.
“If we have more primary care physicians, we’re going to be able to keep people well and healthy and out of the hospital, and that’s what the mission of family medicine is,” said Sherin.
Dr. Sherin says this program creates a pipeline to train new, young doctors, and he says hopefully, some will decide to stay and practice in the area. For Dr. Egal, she says she hopes she can do her part.
“A lot of big cities have access to everything, but rural areas don’t,” said Egal. “We have to advocate for that. We have to change that, and as a doctor, I hope I bring that to the city of Sebring.”