In June, ChristianaCare welcomed its newest residents to its oldest residency program. As the nine Family Medicine residents walked across the stage at the John H. Ammon Medical Education Center on the Newark Campus, they joined a half century of predecessors, who have cared for generations of Delawareans and beyond since 1971.
For 50 years, ChristianaCare has been a national leader in preparing family medicine physicians—the doctors who treat individuals and families from prenatal care through the senior years.
Learn more about ChristianaCare’s Family Medicine Residency program here.
With the first family medicine residency program in Delaware, ChristianaCare is a sought-after health system for physicians preparing for a career in this specialty, which covers the human lifespan.
“Our Family Medicine Residency program and its history of education, training and service have created immeasurable opportunities for our residents and the communities they care for,” said Erin Kavanaugh, M.D., FAAFP.
She completed the Family Medicine residency in 2010 and now serves as interim chair of the Department of Family & Community Medicine and residency program director.
ChristianaCare’s coveted program is one of the oldest in the country, and has trained more than 300 Family Medicine physicians in its history. The current first-year residents were matched from 735 applicants.
In 2007, ChristianaCare launched a five-year residency program in Emergency Medicine/Family Medicine—the first allopathic program of its kind in the country—which has trained an additional 18 physicians in this emerging specialty. This program is also highly selective, with the current three first-year residents matched from 125 applicants.
“From the beginning, there has always been a focus on making sure our graduates have all the tools they need to learn and lead wherever they go,” Dr. Kavanaugh said.
“While other specialties focus on an organ or disease, family physicians are trained to provide comprehensive health care for people of all ages, from infants to seniors,” Dr. Kavanaugh said. “People think of family medicine as primary care only in an office, but that’s not true.”
Current alumni of ChristianaCare’s Family Residency program work in more than 30 states, Canada, New Zealand and England, and can be found in subspecialties including sports medicine, global health and public health. Some serve as medical directors and in other leadership roles. Others have taken a different approach, including practicing functional medicine and pursuing academic research.
“I have long loved working with patients who have genetic disorders and have spent a large amount of time throughout my education working with individuals with Down Syndrome,” said Jennifer Jett, M.D., who completed her Family Medicine residency this year.
She expressed interest to Dr. Kavanaugh and became a continuity clinic resident, working with adults with Down Syndrome at ChristianaCare’s Center for Special Health Care Needs with Down Syndrome clinic leader Mary Stephens, M.D., MPH. A “continuity experience” prioritizes long-term relationships to optimally support chronic disease management.
For Dr. Jett, this has yielded multiple research projects with poster presentations at the Down Syndrome Medical Interest Group National Conference. She is continuing her efforts in this area as a fellow in Hospice and Palliative Care at Cleveland Clinic.
“Dr. Kavanaugh’s design of the Family Medicine Residency made it possible for me to gain not only the knowledge to be a successful family medicine physician,” said Dr. Jett, “but also the time and space to develop skills to my specific interests that will carry me forward in my career.”
Family medicine for tomorrow
“Applicants to ChristianaCare’s Family Medicine Residency program are drawn to the unique opportunity to care for people across a variety of health care settings,” said Karen Antell, M.D., MPH, FAAFP, director of maternity and women’s health education for the Family Medicine residency.
“Our program offers valuable experiences in different settings: Christiana Hospital is a high-volume hospital and Wilmington Hospital functions more like a community hospital,” Dr. Antell said.
“Our practice sites provide important care to many underserved members of our community. Our residents get excellent training that prepares them to be flexible and also ready to lead.”
In addition to being in hospital settings, residents provide care at one of three ChristianaCare practices: the Family Medicine Center at Foulk Road, the Family Medicine Center at Wilmington Primary Care; and the Family Medicine Center at Westside Family Healthcare, a federally qualified health center and community partner.
ChristianaCare also is the Delaware Branch Campus for the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, providing third- and fourth-year medical students with a critical early exposure to the program and, more importantly, to primary care.
A community-driven specialty, the Family Medicine Residency incorporates cultural competency into its residency training, including a dedicated inclusion and diversity curriculum. Residents have opportunities to participate in ChristianaCare events such as Diversity Week and employee resources groups focused on Black and Latinx caregivers, LGBTQIA+, veterans and diverse abilities and a resident-initiated Diversity and Inclusion Journal Club.
This year ChristianaCare was recognized by Forbes as a Best Employer for Diversity and Inclusion in the U.S. for the second consecutive time.
A place in history—and the future
A half-century ago, the program launched with inaugural director Dene Walters, M.D., then chair of Family Medicine, and was centrally located at 1202 Jefferson Street in the Family Practice Office of Wilmington Medical Center, a precursor to ChristianaCare.
ChristianaCare’s Family Medicine Residency program was only the second within 200 miles of Philadelphia when it began in Wilmington, Delaware.
From the beginning, the program prepared physicians for the full spectrum of health care. It has grown to meet community health needs, including addiction medicine and gender-affirming care.
“Our program has a commitment to innovation and transformation in real time,” said Ben Golden, M.D. A 2021 alumnus, Dr. Golden is now on the faculty of the Emergency Medicine/Family Medicine and Family Medicine residency programs.
“We are our communities’ family doctors. We take that trust and responsibility to heart and impart it in our residency training so that our neighbors’ health can flourish.”
— Erin Kavanaugh, M.D.
He also works with ChristianaCare’s Center for Hope and Healing at the New Castle County Hope Center which provides emergency housing, case management and complex primary care for nearly 500 Delawareans. Dr. Golden won a Gold Humanism Award from Sidney Kimmel Medical College as a fourth-year resident.
Identifying and meeting community needs is part of the history of Family and Community Medicine at ChristianaCare. When the community needed more substance use disorder support, Family Medicine began to offer suboxone treatments. For better community access to pediatric care, the department invested in hiring an additional Family Medicine provider who is fellowship-trained in obstetrics. To eliminate barriers to good health, Family Medicine started to care for more patients with hepatitis C.
“We are our communities’ family doctors,” Dr. Kavanaugh said. “We take that trust and responsibility to heart and impart it in our residency training so that our neighbors’ health can flourish.”
Becoming a “medical home”—or central point of health care—for the community has grown in scope over the decades to include the global community, she said.
“We offer incredible community experiences, potential for fellowship and certificate opportunities in global health,” Dr. Kavanaugh said.
With ChristianaCare partners Delaware Health Science Alliance, Delaware Academy of Family Physicians, Delaware Academy of Medicine, and Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Global Health Initiatives takes a multidisciplinary approach to global health education. The program is open to all of ChristianaCare’s residency programs and staff such as nurses, pharmacists and other allied health professionals.
“We have incredible residents and faculty,” said ChristianaCare President and CEO Janice E. Nevin. M.D., MPH. Dr. Nevin joined ChristianaCare as chair of Family and Community Medicine in 2002.
“Our residents are learning from the best—extraordinary physicians, who are also exceptional mentors and leaders. They serve with love and excellence and forge supportive, caring relationships that last a lifetime. It’s very powerful.”
In special 50th anniversary grand rounds, alumni and faculty returned to talk about the past and future of family and community medicine. Among the presenters were:
- Dave Bercaw, M.D., FAAFM, FAAFP, a 1984 graduate who served as residency faculty and chair of the department.
- Christine Donohue-Henry, M.D., MBA, a 1998 graduate who is chief population health officer at ChristianaCare.
- David Hicks, D.O., MPH, FAAFP, a 2010 graduate, who is deputy health officer of the Jefferson County Department of Health in Alabama.
- Margot Savoy, M.D., MPH, FAAFP, former ChristianaCare Family Medicine Residency faculty and current senior vice president for education at the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Another grand rounds panel presentation also featured family medicine residency alumni who have taken divergent career paths.
Unique among family medicine residencies
Unlike other residency programs, ChristianaCare’s Family Medicine residency operates on short blocks that offer a longitudinal approach to learning. Rather than spending a longer block of time on one area, residents have shorter blocks that are repeated, so a resident may get a different learning experience in various settings, for example a pediatric office in the winter versus the summer.
ChristianaCare’s larger size and the geographic proximity of its inpatient and outpatient facilities mean residents get the chance for ample hands-on experience.
In ChristianaCare’s cutting-edge facilities, residents have access to the innovations of virtual medicine, a Level I trauma center, a Level III neonatal intensive care unit, a comprehensive stroke center and regional centers of excellence in heart and vascular care, cancer care and women’s health, plus advanced simulation training in the Virtual Education and Simulation Training Center, a state-of-the-art, 9,000 square foot facility that allows residents to experience realistic scenarios with computer-controlled manikins and a range of laparoscopic and robotic simulators.
In the community, ChristianaCare offers Family Medicine residents clinical experiences in:
- Adolescent wellness centers.
- Juvenile detention centers.
- Holloway Community Program.
- Home visits and nursing home care.
- Migrant mobile health unit.
- School athletics programs.
“People may say you’ll only see one or two of certain types of cases in your career. The things that everyone says happen infrequently actually happen at ChristianaCare and in our community,” Dr. Antell said. “Our residents have tremendous experience by the time they move on to the next step in their careers.”
As it has grown, ChristianaCare’s coveted Family Medicine residency program has earned national recognition for its innovative ways of training residents. The program is a gold-level member of the Family Medicine Education Consortium and has received national awards from the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors for Scholarship and Advocacy and for Program Directors Dr. Kavanaugh and Lisa Maxwell, M.D., MHCDS, now president of ChristianaCare’s Medical Group.
The Foundation of the American Academy of Family Physicians frequently names ChristianaCare residents as Emerging Leaders Fellows, including Ashley Panichelli, M.D., and Amanda Cooper Taylor, D.O., who are on staff at ChristianaCare.
They are continuing the legacy of Family Medicine Residency alumni, carrying out ChristianaCare’s mission to serve our neighbors as respectful expert, caring partners in their health.