Seventeen new doctors began the first day of their three-year residency training Tuesday at University Hospital and Clinics and Lafayette General Medical Center.

Hospital administrators and physician-faculty met with the new doctors early Tuesday morning before the residents launched into their first day of work seeing patients. Jared Stark, CEO of University Hospital and Clinics, told the doctors they’re now part of a team that includes nurses, dietitians, housekeepers and other support staff who help serve UHC patients.

“They’re all here for two reasons really. No. 1: to restore, improve and maintain the health of the community that we serve; and No. 2: to help you all in your journey for the next three years,” Stark said. “They’ve dedicated their careers. They’ve dedicated their lives to this. Listen to them, they’ll help you. In turn, you’ll help them. That’s the culture that we have here. That’s the type of culture we want to continue to foster here. It’s teamwork.”

The two hospitals provide medical training to 77 doctors — 21 at Lafayette General and 56 at UHC — who are in various stages of their residencies. The hospitals provide training in family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery and specialities such as obstetrics/gynecology and orthopedics. Some of the resident positions are rotational so doctors work at a site for only a few months. The largest training programs are in family medicine and internal medicine. On Tuesday, the family medicine program welcomed nine first-year doctors and the internal medicine program grew by eight new doctors.

Dr. Blake McDonald is one of the 17 medical school graduates who began their first day Tuesday as practicing physicians. His expectations for his first day at UHC: “a lot of work.”

McDonald, 30, of Thibodaux, chose to train in Lafayette to move closer to home after completing medical school at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.

“I wanted to come back and live in the South,” he said.

Patrick Gandy, CEO of Lafayette General, is banking on McDonald and other residents staying in the South — specifically Acadiana.

The private hospital became a medical teaching site last year as part of its management takeover of the former University Medical Center, now University Hospital & Clinics. The former UMC has long been a medical training site for medical students and new doctors. Through an ongoing partnership with LSU Health Sciences Center, both hospitals continue to offer medical training.

As the private hospital began talks with the state to take over the former UMC, Gandy said, it was important for Lafayette General leaders to ensure not only that the community has access to health care, but also that graduate medical education options remain in Lafayette.

To qualify as a teaching hospital, Lafayette General spent about $2 million last year to contract with more than 60 physicians to act as faculty and help oversee residents’ training. Gandy said the private hospital spends about $4.5 million annually on its graduate medical education program.

“We felt it was vitally important that the community had continued access to physicians in the future,” Gandy said. “Many of the physicians that train here stay here.”

Access to train at both sites enriches the educational experience for the new doctors, Gandy said. UHC, though privately managed, remains Lafayette’s safety net hospital serving patients who lack health insurance. It also operates specialized clinics, such as family health, pediatrics and orthopedics. Budget cuts prior to Lafayette General’s takeover of the hospital led to the closure of many health services at UMC and most have been restored in the past year. The full-service, private hospital recently renovated and expanded its emergency services and surgical departments.

“Lafayette General offers a different learning experience due to the size of our facility and the services we offer,” Gandy said.

At UHC, Tuesday marked the start of Dr. Piya Bhowmick’s year-long fellowship in geriatrics medicine. Bhowmick of Allentown, Pennsylvania, completed her residency at Lehigh Valley Health Network in her hometown.

She said her family medicine residency experience inspired her to specialize in caring for older patients.

During her rotations in geriatric care, she discovered she had more time to spend with patients and delve deeper into factors that could be impacting their care, from family life to multiple medications that could be causing side effects, she said.

First day nerves weren’t an issue for her. She offered this bit of advice for the novices: Enjoy it.

“There’s so much to learn, but that doesn’t all have to happen on day 1,” she said. “Enjoy each day because it goes by faster than you think.”