“There are six platforms in the Air Force for this residency training,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Snyder, the program’s military director. “The unique situation we’re in is that we are actually combined with St. Louis University. That makes us the only fully integrated combined military and civilian family residency program in the Air Force.”
Every year, 42 residents go through the program, which lasts three years. Each class has 14 participants — eight military members and six civilians. To be accepted into the program, both military and civilian residents must graduate from medical school.
First-year students often work a total of 60-80 hours throughout the week, with their workload reducing to an average of 50-60 hours per week by the time the residents reach their third year.
“Because of how their schedules work, they are almost in a different location every half day,” said Capt. Trevor Smith, a faculty member and previous resident. “Each month, they are on a theme — it could be geriatrics, obstetrics, or inpatient care. But they still come to the clinic for feedback and are often times responding to calls at the hospital over the weekend.”
Students are required to learn every specialty under family medicine in a short amount of time, making it an intensive learning program, according to Smith.
“The program is designed to be kind of like a ‘learn by drinking from the fire hose,’” Smith said. “It’s a lot of information coming at you, but its experiential information. So, they spend a lot of hours taking care of patients.”
Snyder said the program is designed to offer students a “full scope” training method, meaning students are not specifically trained in family medicine.
“They are trained in everything,” Snyder said. “That way they can become the most valuable family medicine physicians the Air Force can produce.”
The family residency clinic has about 8,000 patients who are all Defense Department beneficiaries. Residents also have the opportunity to provide care for civilian patients in the hospital.
“The biggest benefit of this program is the variety of patients our residents get exposed to and get the opportunity to care for,” Snyder said.
“We also emphasize hands-on learning with our residents when seeing challenging patients,” he continued. “There are things here you may not see in a straight military residency program, because the military patient population doesn’t always present the most challenging patients sometimes.”
The program began in 1972 and was located at Scott Air Force Base. When the hospital on base closed down in 1996, the program moved to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville.
Late next year, St. Elizabeth’s will be moving locations along with the residency clinic; however, the training will remain the same. Snyder said the location will allow more efficient patient care and will also be closer to Scott AFB, making it easier for most DOD beneficiaries to receive their care.
“This to me is the best job I could imagine having,” Snyder said. “I have a great opportunity to not only shape future Air Force physicians but to also teach and have a direct impact on their education.”