Above, Dr. Katie Ruth looks over Lindsey Hutchinson of Klamath Falls during an office visit at the OHSU-Cascades East Family Medicine Center in Klamath Falls, 2019. Ruth performed her residency at Cascades East, a collaboration between OHSU and Sky Lakes Medical Center working to improve health access in rural Oregon. Credit: OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff

Oregon Health & Science University is in the early stages of creating what is expected to be the first graduate medical education program primarily based in Central Oregon.

OHSU has received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Health Resources & Service Administration’s Rural Residency Planning and Development Program. OHSU will use the grant to develop a new family medicine residency program in partnership with Bend-based St. Charles Health System. 

“Establishing a family medicine residency program in Central Oregon can help address health care gaps that occur too often in rural areas,” said Joe Skariah, D.O., M.P.H., M.B.A., who directs OHSU’s family medicine residency program and is leading the new program’s creation. “Knowing physicians often choose to stay and practice in the communities where they complete their residencies, this new program could also attract more skilled and compassionate health care providers to Central Oregon.”

Residents are new physicians who have recently completed medical school and receive advanced training in a specific medical field. This program will focus on family medicine, primary care that specializes in caring for the entire family.

After receiving accreditation, the program could welcome its first residents as early as July 2024. The program’s first year, known as an internship, would be based out of OHSU’s Portland campus. The program’s subsequent years would primarily bring residents to St. Charles Madras. Many of the program’s details are still being decided, including the number of residents involved.

The program will build on OHSU’s long-established rural medical education program. Every OHSU medical student completes at least one month of training in a rural setting, including in the Central Oregon communities of Warm Springs, Madras, Redmond, Prineville and Sisters. During OHSU’s last academic year, 42 medical students had clinical rotations with Central Oregon physicians, many of whom are associated with St. Charles Health System. Portland-based OHSU residents have also had rotations in Bend and Warm Springs. 

The new residency program is being organized through the OHSU School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine, which was recognized this year by U.S. News & World Report as the nation’s best family medicine program. OHSU is home to one of the oldest family medicine residency programs in the U.S., and the first family medicine residency program in Oregon.

“I am excited to grow our collaboration with OHSU and create an important avenue for medical education in Central Oregon,” said Robert Ross, M.D., director of provider academics research and clinical service at St. Charles Health System and a clinical associate professor of family medicine at OHSU.