The residency recruitment process and the importance of having WMed students and learners from other Michigan medical schools train in Kalamazoo

Dean Termuhlen's Take Header

In this month’s installment of Dean Termuhlen’s Take On …, our dean Dr. Paula Termuhlen discusses the residency recruitment process and the increasing importance of having WMed students and learners from other Michigan medical schools come to Kalamazoo to train.

Dean Termuhlen's Take PhotoSince WMed is a community-based medical school, one goal of yours is to increase our focus on recruiting Michigan students to attend medical school here. Why is this important to you?

It’s especially important in light of our new mission and vision focused on health equity for all people in Southwest Michigan. One way we do that is by increasing access to care and that can be accomplished by recruiting individuals from this region who would like to stay here. Our ability to recruit from this area adds to the diversity of physicians that will reflect the populations we serve. We know we have a cohort of people in Michigan who are from Michigan and have lived here all their lives, so we need to address that group in addition to individuals coming into our state from all over the United States and around the world as we provide care to a diverse patient population. I think everyone brings with them a lived experience that contributes to their ability to provide care for patients so that is why we want to make sure we have individuals that are from Michigan and other states that allow us to really take care of everyone from this area.

Along those lines, you want to continue to recruit WMed students to complete their training in the medical school’s residency programs. Why is this important for WMed and Southwest Michigan?

National and regional data from a variety of surrounding states shows that if individuals go to medical school in the state and complete their residency training in the state, there is a 60 to 80 percent chance they will remain here to provide patient care so it’s very important to provide opportunities for our WMed students to consider staying with us. I’d say that we’re off to a good start in that area with our first five graduating classes but we also want to ensure that we are bringing more of our students into all of our residencies and especially our primary care specialties. Going forward, I would like to see at least 10 to 15 percent of our residency slots filled by our students. WMed has an important role to play in our community in being intentional in seeing that our learners potentially put down roots after medical school and be contributing members to the Southwest Michigan community, and become our future healthcare leaders in the region.

What does WMed do well in terms of residency recruitment? What could be improved?

I think we do a really good job of bringing in highly qualified individuals who will successfully complete their training and go on to receive their medical specialty certification. I think there is room for improvement in terms of bringing in more individuals that reflect our patient population in Southwest Michigan. It’s part of creating that workforce that reflects and understands the people we serve and that means that we have to broaden our diversity across a wide number of measures, including race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among other measures. Another thing that we do really well is we have program directors who are leveraging social media platforms to share the many positive things we have available to medical students considering our residency programs. Additionally, we are very focused on looking across our different specialties at how we can raise awareness around activities where learners have shared interests and maybe shared backgrounds so they can get to know each other and do work together, particularly in the space around health equity.

What percentage of WMed residents stay in the Southwest Michigan area following their residency training? What percentage would you like to see, and what are some things WMed can do to increase this number?

In 2022, 31 percent of our trainees were employed within 150 miles of Kalamazoo and 40 percent of our fellows. What we would love to do is get those numbers closer to 50 percent. We know currently that there is a need for primary care physicians in our region and statewide so we see this as a place where there is a real opportunity to retain our residency program graduates. We’re also in a process right now at WMed of understanding what other needs our community has related to healthcare and that can then inform how we really work to retain our residents in the different specialties and consider whether we need some additional residencies and fellowships to help meet that need. This is all done in partnership with our local hospitals where there’s an opportunity for us – to a greater extent— to recruit our residency graduates into their open positions. Additionally, if we understand that students who go to medical school and complete their residency training in the same community are likely to remain there for practice, then we know that recruiting physicians to stay in the community starts when they are in medical school so you have to create a welcoming environment that allows individuals to put down roots, be members of the community, and see themselves growing and flourishing and providing care and being the physicians they want to be. It is a complicated process so you have to be very intentional and develop meaningful strategies because if you don’t you could potentially lose people who didn’t realize that you wanted them to stay because they never heard you say it and then another community ends up reaping the benefits of the wonderful training you’ve just provided to that talented physician.

Why should prospective residents choose WMed over other residency programs?

One of the reasons why you would choose our training programs here in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek over others is we have a long experience of producing outstanding physicians who are well-rounded, compassionate and provide care of the highest quality. What makes Southwest Michigan special is that this community cares about people. It’s an opportunity to be in a place where you will have partners who want to work shoulder to shoulder and actually start to make a difference around achieving health equity. It is a community that has a huge number of amenities, that has a low cost of living, that is in a location that allows you to get to larger population centers like Chicago, Detroit, and Grand Rapids, and you’re in a state that has incredible natural beauty and, particularly in Southwest Michigan, we have the incredible bounty of our farms and fruits and vegetables that we’re able to access. We have all of the things that families look for in terms of a healthy environment with wonderful schools and an investment in education with The Kalamazoo Promise. So, we want people to come and we want them to stay because we love being here.

A Hat Tip from Dr. T

I want to acknowledge all of our WMed team members who are going above and beyond in their jobs during times when we’ve been shorthanded. An example of that is our Office of the Dean team, which is made up of four individuals but recently was down to zero people available because of individuals who had medical leaves and emergencies that arose. And yet, many people came together to take on extra duties and the work has gotten done at a very high level. It has really demonstrated why it’s great to be at WMed because people just roll up their sleeves and say let’s get the work done.

Dean Termuhlen’s Take On ... is a monthly message from our dean to discuss topics of importance to WMed, medical school stakeholders, and the communities that make up Southwest Michigan. Is there a topic you would like to hear Dean Termuhlen’s take on? Let us know by sending a message to