The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) announced Monday a new Statewide Residency Program that will add $80 million to funding graduate medical education in Florida. The announcement, at Florida Hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Program, featured healthcare and education leaders, including the UCF College of Medicine.

“This funding specifically for graduate medical education is another way Governor Scott has demonstrated his commitment to education, health care and jobs,” said AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek. “It will improve access to and quality of care for all Floridians, expand graduate medical education on an equitable basis, and increase the supply of highly trained physicians statewide.”

Funding from the new program is available to all hospitals that sponsor residents.

The UCF College of Medicine will begin its first graduate medical education training in the summer of 2014 with a new Internal Medicine Residency Program in partnership with the Orlando VA Medical Center and Osceola Regional Medical Center. The residency will train a total of 60 residents, and applicants are being interviewed beginning this month.

UCF’s Dr. Abdo Asmar is associate program director for the new residency program. A board-certified specialist in internal medicine and nephrology, Dr. Asmar is an honored medical educator who also practices nephrology at UCF Pegasus Health, the college’s physician practice. He served as chief resident at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and says the Orlando community needs additional residency programs to attract the best M.D. graduates.

“We are training amazing young people to be physician leaders of the 21st century and we need strong residency programs in our community for these talented young healers to continue their training in Central Florida,” Dr. Asmar said at the AHCA event. As he spoke, he pointed to third-year College of Medicine student Katerina Boucek, who is doing her family medicine clerkship at Florida Hospital and attended the residency event. Katerina hopes to train to become a pediatric cardiologist after medical school graduation.

Funding of residency programs is a big issue in Florida because the number of available residencies has not kept pace with the state’s growing population and its increasing number of medical schools. Dr. Asmar pointed out that Florida ranks 42 of the 50 statues in number of residents per 100,000 people. And he pointed to UCF’s medical school enrollment – which has grown nine-fold in just five years – in showing the need for more graduate medical training, which is required for physicians to be licensed.

Florida Hospital officials agreed that sufficient dollars for training is critical, noting that they have over 150 residents in their programs each year. Hospital and educational leaders pointed out that residency programs increase the number of qualified physicians in a community.

“Over the years we’ve learned that if you establish residency programs in a community, the physicians are more likely to open practices in the same areas they completed their residency,” said Dr. Patricio Bruno, program director of the Florida Hospital East Orlando Family Medicine Residency.  “In some cases as many as 65 to 90 percent of the residents remain in the local area to provide medical care for the community.”

One of those residents in Dr. Jeff Chiu, a fifth year general surgical resident at Florida Hospital. He went to high school in Lake Mary, did his undergraduate work in the Northeast and wanted to return to Orlando for medical school. He noted at the press conference that the UCF College of Medicine was not yet opened, so he was delighted to be accepted at Florida State University’s medical school, which has programs in several areas including Orlando.

“It has been such a wonderful experience completing my residency at Florida Hospital,” he said.  “Right now, my plans include staying here in the local community to practice medicine and give back to this area.”

As he closed his remarks, Dr. Asmar noted that resident training offers another community advantage – better doctors. “Being a teacher and being surrounded by learners makes us better physicians,” he said.