Some of the faculty and staff members who helped design the new preventive medicine residency program include, from left, Dr. Desiree Pendergrass,  Dr. Peter Pendergrass, Terri Jones, Dr. Joshua Mann and Brea Cole.
Some of the faculty and staff members who helped design the new preventive medicine residency program include, from left, Dr. Desiree Pendergrass, Dr. Peter Pendergrass, Terri Jones, Dr. Joshua Mann and Brea Cole.
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'A healthier Mississippi' goal of new residency program

Published on Thursday, January 11, 2018

By: Gary Pettus

Prospects for Mississippi’s health are expected to take a turn for the better once a new crop of specialists begins going to work a couple of years from now.

Those physicians will be trained here in Mississippi to practice preventive medicine, which aims to avert disease and injury for entire populations – in other words, head off sickness before it begins.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center will be educating those physicians now that accreditation has been granted for its first-ever preventive medicine residency program. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education announced its decision Nov. 16.

This achievement has been a goal of the Department of Preventive Medicine since the appointment in July 2015 of Mississippi native Dr. Joshua Mann as professor and chair of the department, which had been dormant for about eight years and is now part of both the School of Medicine and the John D. Bower School of Population Health.

“This was our target,” said Mann, a 1996 School of Medicine alumnus who earned a Master of Public Health degree and completed his preventive medicine residency at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

“It always bothered me as a medical student that I didn’t have the opportunity to stay here and do my residency in preventive medicine. Building a preventive medicine workforce in Mississippi is important. The state has unique health challenges, and those who want to make a difference can.”

Interviews for prospective residents are expected to begin this month. The ACGME approved the program for a total of eight residents, four per year of training. For now, the Medical Center has funding for two positions per year, but grant awards or other sources could up that number eventually, Mann said.

“We hope to have the first residents in place by July 2018,” said Dr. Peter Pendergrass, associate professor of preventive medicine and population health, and residency program director.

If so, the first, who will have already begun their training elsewhere, will likely finish training in 2020, and not too soon for Dr. Mary Currier, who, as State Health Officer, leads the Mississippi State Department of Health, headquartered across the street from UMMC.


“This thrills me,” said Currier, a 1983 School of Medicine graduate who completed an M.P.H. and her preventive medicine residency at Johns Hopkins University.

“Having a preventive medicine residency in the state and right across the street that we can help with, and be helped by, is a great accomplishment for UMMC and for the state. Many of our poor health ratings in Mississippi are due to things that happen to people before they get sick: poor diet, lack of exercise, unhealthy lifestyles.

“Preventive medicine is all about trying to get people healthy and prevent those diseases we know can be related to healthy practices: not smoking, proper exercise, knowing the right way to wash your hands. You also collect and analyze data to look at a whole population and at what is making it sick. You can have a huge effect on a lot of people.”

UMMC will accept two residents the first year the program is in place, and another two the second year, Pendergrass said. The first residents recruited will arrive from other programs or may be pursuing preventive medicine training following their training in a different specialty. They will be starting as either second- or third-year post graduate trainees; two will be admitted for each of those PGYs.

Applicants must complete an internship with at least 10 months of direct patient care before entering the program. As residents, they take on at least four months in direct patient care with Dr. Shannon Pittman Moore, professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine; and four months with MSDH. They may choose longer periods through electives.

They will also spend time at the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery VA Medical Center, the Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center, Mississippi State Medical Association and Mississippi Public Health Association; in rural health and telehealth training with Tonya Moore, UMMC health system administrator of community health services; and in primary care with the Department of Family Medicine, and in occupational medicine education with Dr. Joyce Olutade, assistant professor of family medicine and medical director of Student and Employee Health.

They will also complete a Master of Science in Clinical Investigation degree in UMMC’s School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences as they dive into translational research, biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health and health systems management.

Besides Pendergrass and Mann, those who designed the new residency program include Dr. Desiree Pendergrass, associate professor of preventive medicine and pediatrics; Bryce Ainsworth, project manager for Graduate Medical Education; Brea Cole, staff member in the Department of Preventive Medicine; and Terri Jones, project manager for GME.

Laying the groundwork, Peter Pendergrass said, also depended on the backing of Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health and the dean of the School of Medicine; Dr. Shirley Schlessinger, professor of medicine; Dr. Bettina Beech, founding dean of the School of Population Health; and Dr. Rick Barr, then the chair of the Department of Pediatrics and senior associate dean for Graduate Medical Education who left the Medical Center last fall. Partners inside and outside of UMMC also “contributed extensively,” he said.

“We had a lot of support on this. The preventive medicine curriculum is integrated into a lot of activities in other departments; their faculty have agreed to direct rotations.”

Recruiting residents, though, means vying with another 90 or so similar programs around the country, Peter Pendergrass said. It will be a matter of “getting the word out.

“The fact that we’re new may make that task a large hill to climb, but there are 30 years of graduate medical education experience between Dr. Mann, Dr. Desiree Pendergrass and me. I believe when people see what our program has to offer, we will compete with the best.”

Careers for preventive medicine physicians include academic medicine, quality improvement roles, employee wellness work, and clinical prevention practice, Mann said.

But the biggest employers are departments of health and health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mann said. Many work for other governmental institutions, such as the military.

The projection, and hope, here is that UMMC’s graduates will come away with strong skills in clinical practice and in population health, he said.

Many of the residents’ experiences will be in the public health system. And the new School of Population Health will give rise to a “wealth of opportunities” in research and population health management, Mann said.

For now, the program will be administered in a suite of offices inside the University Rehabilitation Center, where Pendergrass’ office is located. Plans are to establish the program’s home base, and the Department of Preventive Medicine’s, in the new Translational Research Center building, along with the other departments in the School of Population Health.

Wherever the residents call home, Currier will be across State Street waiting for them. “This can really help us,” she said, “having young folks rotating through here, learning what the health department does, having their energy and new ideas.

“I believe they will learn a lot from us as well.”