March 8, 2021, 1:15 p.m. David Mitchell — When the Northeast Georgia Medical Center earned accreditation for its family medicine residency in February 2019, the new program had to choose between participating in the National Resident Matching Program’s Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program a month later or waiting to go through the 2020 match season.
Program director Monica Newton, D.O., M.P.H., C.P.H., opted to wait a year to take on her first class of interns.
“We wanted to make sure we understood our culture, why we were here and what we were looking for,” Newton said. “Having a clear vision has helped really ensure that we get the right fit.”
Now Newton is preparing for her second Match Day amid a pandemic that has forced the entire process online. She said the residency fairs her program would have attended were either canceled or went virtual, making it challenging to promote the new program.
“Everyone — from students to programs nationwide — is nervous this season,” she said, “but we have to trust the process. I think we’ll do well. We know who we are and what we can do.”
The Northeast Georgia program hopes it can address a growing need for primary care in its state. Georgia has experienced explosive growth with its population increasing by more than 4 million people since 1990. The residency program also is part of a strategy intended to address the imbalance between the state’s number of medical school graduates and residency slots. In 2012, the governor proposed matching funds for 400 new residency positions with an emphasis on primary care. Nearly a decade later, the state is on pace to create roughly 600 new residency slots.
By 2024, the Northeast Georgia Health System alone could have more than 200 residents. The system already is training residents in new family medicine, internal medicine and general surgery programs, and is in the process of launching training programs for emergency medicine, psychiatry, and obstetrics and gynecology.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Newton said. “The system has done things right, including the amount of support we have.”
That includes a $35 million, three-story facility with 25,000 square feet for family medicine on the ground floor. The building opened last spring before the program’s first group of interns arrived.
Newton didn’t set out to be a program director, but she was a leader and mentor early on as a chief resident and fellow before becoming an assistant professor and preceptor.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to continue on this path,” she said. “I’m so happy I did. I have the best job. We have an amazing team. Seeing a resident develop and grow not only in knowledge but as a person is very rewarding.”
Newton has served in a variety of leadership positions at the state level. She is currently vice speaker of the Georgia AFP’s Congress of Delegates and also serves on the AAFP’s Commission on Education. Newton, whose husband is family physician Wylie Newton, M.D., said finding the right balance of roles can be challenging.
“I evaluate these kinds of opportunities based on whether they are energy drains or things that give me energy,” she said. “I focus on things I’m passionate about and can stay connected to.”
That passion includes serving her state. The Northeast Georgia Physicians Group has 65 locations in a 19-county service area. Newton’s challenge is not only to recruit and train great residents but to produce graduates who will stay and practice in the region. In this year’s virtual match, she interviewed nearly 200 candidates for 12 slots.
“The quality of character of the people applying to family medicine is inspiring,” she said. "That’s another piece that makes my job really rewarding. I know not everyone is going to choose to be here, but I’m confident I’m going to cross paths with a lot of them again. They’ll take care of me some day. That is what’s neat about being a family physician and an educator at the same time. It makes that balancing thing work.”