MERIDIAN, Miss. (AP) — After completing their residencies, four doctors with ties to Meridian have taken positions at local hospitals and will pursue their careers in East Mississippi.
Caleb Dulaney, a West Lauderdale graduate, will join the ranks of doctors at Anderson's Cancer Center after completing a residency in radiation oncology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
"It's very fast-paced and there's always new technology being developed," Dulaney said about pursuing radiation oncology. "You see a wide range of cancer (types) and you get to help a lot of different people."
Dulaney received his undergraduate degree in engineering before pursuing a medical degree, which makes studying cancer in the human body a perfect overlap.
"With medicine, you can work anywhere in the country but still be involved with the latest technology," Dulaney said. "I like that I'm not just continually learning the latest science... but also that personal connection and one-on-one trust in the clinic."
Dulaney said that having the chance to work at the Cancer Center at Anderson's would allow him to stay in Meridian but continue building his career in medicine.
"I wanted to come to (UAB) because it's a big cancer center and I could learn a lot," Dulaney said. "I have fond memories of Meridian... so I had a big pull to come back."
Dulaney said part of the appeal of Meridian was a sense of responsibility to the community, especially those who helped him achieve his goal, but also the chance to participate and be a bigger part of the community.
"It's more of a community than Birmingham. It's rare that you'd know a patient personally or run into them during treatment or after treatment," Dulaney said. "That's definitely not the case in Meridian."
At Rush Foundation Hospital, three doctors from the EC-HealthNet Family Medicine Residency will stay in Meridian after completing their three-year residencies.
Unlike his fellow graduates, Matthew Capalbo, of Ocean Springs, said he wouldn't pursue family medicine, but rather, start as a doctor in Rush's Emergency Department.
"I like that it's more fast-paced and an acute setting," Capalbo said. "You never know what's going to walk in the door and it keeps things interesting."
Capalbo previously pursued his education in a rural area near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before fellow William Carey University graduates convinced him to move closer to home.
"Several friends and med school classmates that I knew here gave glowing recommendations," Capalbo said. "And the main reason I stuck around is because I feel very welcomed in the community... The community as a whole was very receptive to me and the other residents."
For Capalbo, with a wife and a little girl, Meridian seemed like the place to establish a home and raise a family.
Chris Moore, of Auburn, Alabama, didn't feel that same need for a fast-paced atmosphere, preferring the built-up trust and rapport developed with patients.
"I want to do family medicine because I like doing a little bit of everything and staying current in every field," Moore, who joined the Family Medical Group of Union on July 2, said. "You keep people out of the hospital and find something that would be a problem but you fixed it."
For Moore, even Meridian seemed too big, prompting a move to the small town of Collinsville. Moore came to the area as part of the Family Medicine Residency with EC-HealthNet, run by Lee Valentine, D.O. Valentine created the program and became its director, graduating the second class of six students this June.
"Dr. (Lee) Valentine's vision for the program and making us rural-based doctors was the big draw," Moore said. "You can be the first to assist on procedures, you're not waiting... I didn't want to have to compete for my education."
Rural doctors, especially family doctors, face unique challenges, such as distant hospitals or lack of nearby technology, both focuses for Rush Health Systems. As Moore puts it, "you have to rely on yourself until you get that patients somewhere else."
"(Valentine's) vision was to have a program that made you into a well-rounded physician," Moore said. "They could be able to drop you anywhere in rural America and you could function competently."
For both Moore and Hunter Harrison, a fellow graduate, the appeal of the rural-based program meant they could get one-on-one time with instructors in contrast to an academic residency, where they might have to compete with other students to even perform routine procedures.
"With it being a rural-based program, it wasn't like (an academic program) where you have to fight for procedures," Harrison, of West Monroe, Louisiana, said.
For Harrison, the friendly community in Meridian and the Rush system attracted him and encouraged him to stay in the area.
"I chose Meridian because it's fairly close to home... my wife and I live in an apartment in downtown and we saw the growth of Meridian, the growth of opportunities here," Harrison said. "Everybody made eye contact and said hello. At Rush, people ask what you're doing.... I thought, 'Huh, this is a cool thing.' "
Harrison said that building trust with patients drew him to medicine, specifically primary care, which he'll practice when he joins the Family Medical Clinic in Meridian on July 16.
"I like the clinic because there's a wellness aspect, you're not just seeing people when they feel awful," Harrison said. "And they know that if I recommend something it's because it's something I believe will help."
As for Meridian, Harrison said he planned to stick around as he grows in his career, beginning with a clinic only three hours from home.
"I'd like to see the growth in Meridian continue," Harrison said. "I think that they're starting on a lot of good things but I still think there's a lot to keep going."