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Medical School grads see Buffalo as place to stay

In years past, when fourth-year UB medical students gathered at Match Day to find out where they would perform their residencies, the vast majority learned that they were headed for New York City, Boston or other out-of-town destinations.

That’s changing.

Although many UB Medical School graduates still leave Buffalo for their residencies, the number staying here in the last graduating class is the highest that it has been in years.

Forty-five out of 143 members of the current class at the University at Buffalo will do their residencies in Buffalo-area hospitals.

That’s up from 33 last year and 30 the year prior, and it’s the most since at least 2008, according to the university.

“I really only wanted to go to UB,” said Brian MacDonald, who is from outside Salem, Mass., and will start his residency in internal medicine here after graduating from the Medical School and earning a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology.

The soon-to-be residents say they are staying put because they’re impressed with the physicians and faculty they’ve met during their time as students in UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Some are Buffalo natives, some are transplants who have personal reasons for wanting to stay – such as a spouse or fiancée from here.

But the region’s revival is part of the story, too. The medical students say they like what they see happening in the community and on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus over the last several years. That includes the continuing investment in a new UB Medical School and the new John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, both under construction on the Medical Campus.

“This is a city that’s a live canvas right now,” said Buffalo native Frits Abell, managing director of Impact Industries, a social venture accelerator and founder of the former Buffalo Expat Network. “People see an emerging economy, and they want to be part of it.”

Good news for the region

To be sure, it’s too soon to call it a long-lasting trend. And some students who matched with UB didn’t rank the university as their first choice for a residency program.

But this is good news for the region because it means more doctors in training to staff the region’s hospitals and a larger pool of future doctors, observers say.

The National Resident Matching Program uses a computerized mathematical formula to match nearly 27,000 American and international med school graduates with residencies.

In the months leading up to Match Day, the students submitted lists ranking where they would prefer to do their residencies, and 4,800 residency programs ranked their preferred candidates.

The match determines where they will spend at least the next three – and as many as the next seven – years. At the Statler City Golden Ballroom Match Day event earlier this month for UB graduates, Dr. David A. Milling, the school’s senior associate dean for student and academic affairs, led a countdown before the students ripped open the envelopes to learn their fates.

The National Resident Matching Program said that it does not track how many graduates do their residencies at the med schools they attended. But at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, for example, 15 percent of its medical students will stay in the school’s residency program. And at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 32 percent of its students will stay to do their residencies at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

MacDonald moved here eight years ago to pursue a joint medical degree and Ph.D. His girlfriend at the time, now his wife, is from Buffalo, so that’s one reason he applied to UB, and he was sold on the school after his interview.

They bought a house in the Parkside neighborhood, and they have a 4-year-old daughter, so they’ve put down roots.

MacDonald also has forged professional ties with his teachers, colleagues and the residents with whom he worked closely as a student. And he said he knows he’ll get good training and good research experience in Buffalo.

UB was his first choice for a residency.

“I looked at this like, I’m in this for the long haul,” MacDonald said. “I see this as, this is my home.”

Medical Campus is magnet

This is home for Sarah Belliotti, too. The Buffalo native went away to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania for undergraduate studies and returned to UB for medical school.

Belliotti said a lot of her friends were returning to Buffalo around the same time.

“To be able to be part of that change and to be part of that growth in Buffalo is exciting,” she said, pointing to the investment in and around downtown.

UB, with significant state support, is building a $375 million medical school on the Medical Campus, where the school will move from its longtime home on the UB South Campus.

The building – the largest single construction project in UB’s history – is set to open for the 2017-18 academic year.

The downtown Medical Campus also is the site of the Oishei Children’s Hospital, also now under construction, as well as the recently opened Gates Vascular Institute and other high-tech research hubs.

Area physicians say the growing number of UB medical students staying here for their residencies is good news for the region because it’s a sign of students’ satisfaction with the program.

Further, they are more likely to stay here to practice medicine after their residencies, said Dr. Anne B. Curtis, president and CEO of UBMD Internal Medicine and the vice chair of the UBMD Physicians’ Group executive board.

While 39 percent of doctors practice in the same state where they received their medical degree alone, 67 percent practice in the same state where they completed both their medical degrees along with their residencies and any fellowships, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ 2015 State Physician Workforce Data Book.

That’s important because the region faces a shortage of primary care doctors, as The Buffalo News reported last year, citing data from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. The Healthcare Association of New York State, which represents the interests of the hospital industry in the state, has issued its own warnings on the topic.

“The easiest way to replenish the physician supply is train them right around here,” Curtis said.

Cities such as Buffalo are attractive to people who want to live in an innovative, authentic and affordable metro area, said Bruce J. Katz, an expert on urban policy who is the centennial scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Over the last two decades, cities have become places where core clusters such as the Medical Campus attract professionals, said Katz, who first visited Buffalo 30 years ago and who was a speaker at a conference last fall hosted by the Medical Campus.

When millennials, young professionals and members of other demographics decide where they want to live, they seek cities for economic reasons, Katz said, but also for personal reasons. They crave cultural authenticity, he said, they want to get their coffee at Spot Coffee, not Starbucks.

“I have a feeling that places like Buffalo are unbelievably authentic,” Katz said. “I mean, you know when you’re in Buffalo, compared to just about any other city, in the good times and the bad.”

Abell splits his time between his hometown and New York City these days. He said he knows a number of people who are looking to leave New York City because they’re seeking an affordable urban experience that is more accessible in a city like Buffalo.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” Abell said.

Attracted by the city’s vibe

For years, Abell said, the negative feelings about Buffalo fed on themselves. “The positivity and the enthusiasm and the optimism are infectious in Buffalo right now,” he said. “I had a friend visit me from New York who said that ‘This city is vibrating.’ ”

Belliotti, who is engaged to a doctor in Buffalo, was so dead set on staying here that she didn’t interview with any other residency programs or rank any other residency programs beside UB.

She applied to the UB Medical School’s Generalist Scholars Program, designed for fourth-year medical students who express a strong desire to stay in Buffalo. MacDonald also is part of the program.

Belliotti will stay at UB for her four-year OB/GYN residency. “Residency can be a very time-consuming, grueling experience,” she said. “And I wanted to be where my support system was.

“To be able to focus as much as I can on my academics and doing well in my clinical component. Without having to worry about when your car breaks down, and you’re in a new city and you’re trying to figure out where to go.”