HCA is welcoming its largest class of residents and fellows, with nearly 1,500 new doctors working in sites around the country. The for-profit hospital chain has quietly become the nation's biggest sponsor of graduate medical education.
Before 2014, HCA had just a few hundred residency slots. Now it has 3,900 residents and fellows with plans to expand to 7,000 within seven years, according to a company release.
Michael Cuffe, president of HCA's physician services group, oversees the residents and says the young doctors require additional oversight. But teaching also helps remind experienced physicians to do it all by the book.
"I think there's nothing better than a naïve, second-year general surgery resident to remind that big-gun surgeon to wash his hands or wash her hands," Cuffe tells the Federation of American Hospitals podcast.
But the main motivation for HCA is that residents tend to stick around once they finish — half in the same city, two-thirds in the same state. And because its hospitals are primarily in growing markets, the physician shortage in some specialties hits the company particularly hard.
HCA now has so many residency slots that most of this year's match program class applied for at least one. The company has 56 teaching hospitals, primarily in the Southeast and inner mountain states.
The caliber of residents matching with HCA are roughly on par with the U.S. average, Cuffe says, adding that he hopes to improve as the program matures. But unlike academic medical centers, he notes that HCA usually can find a spot for permanent employment.
"We can often retain all of them in private practice, in employment, by joining our local groups, by joining some of our hospitalist vendors or ER vendors," Cuffe says. "We can retain them on our medical staff in our markets across our system, and we hope to do so."
Staffing its 185 hospitals has driven several business decisions in recent months, including HCA becoming the majority owner of Galen College of Nursing, one of the country's largest nursing schools.