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The residents behind new SIU family medicine program at Alton Memorial

The first residents of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Alton Family Medicine Residency Program began their three-year training at Alton Memorial Hospital on July 1.

A ribbon cutting was held July 2 in the program’s new offices on the first floor of Medical Office Building B on the AMH campus. Representatives from AMH, BJC, Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation (SIHF) and SIU School of Medicine attended.

“We are excited to be partnering with Alton Memorial Hospital and Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation in this program,” said Rebecca Hoffman, MD, MSPH, director of the program. “These organizations have a long and rich history of providing education, care and service to the populations of the area. Our shared vision for education, and patient and community care allow for many opportunities throughout our service areas.”

Dave Braasch, president of Alton Memorial Hospital, reflected on several years of planning and thanked everyone for their diligence and patience.

“Today is a momentous day in the history of the hospital,” Braasch said. “I really want to thank Dr. Hoffman for her persistence and commitment throughout what has ultimately been a seven-year journey, particularly in the midst of a pandemic. It’s a great day for our community as well, as we are training these physicians in Family Medicine.”

Larry McCulley, president and CEO of SIHF, said “Our partnership with BJC and Alton Memorial goes back more than 20 years to our first health center in Madison County. Today expands our partnership, through a new Family Medicine Residency with SIU School of Medicine, in developing tomorrow’s work force. It is a pleasure to welcome the inaugural six residents into our SIHF Healthcare Alton Health Center as we look forward to a successful residency program for many years to come.”

Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, dean and provost of SIU School of Medicine, marveled at the new space for the program and thanked everyone for the collaboration.

“Effective health care always involves collaboration ─ between the patient and the physician, the medical team in the clinic, and the staff behind the scenes,” Dr. Kruse said. “We’re fortunate to be a part of this team effort. We are very grateful for all the groundwork you have done to get the right people and pieces in place to expand SIU Medicine’s outreach.

“You are helping our young residents become more confident, compassionate and highly skilled clinicians. And they in turn can practice medicine that will benefit the community’s residents of all ages ─ which is why SIU School of Medicine was founded.”

Dr. Hoffman said she recognized the need for the program after her experience working in express care and private practice.

“There simply weren’t enough family physicians around, and patient access was poor,” she said. “Those family physicians with thriving practices were also planning retirement within the next 5-10 years. I was hoping to re-establish a relationship with the School of Medicine—an organization near and dear to my heart as an alumnus and a former faculty member.”

After years of planning, the green light was given in August 2019. The round of interviews for the first class was all virtual because of the pandemic.

“I would like to recognize these fine resident physicians and their hard work as partners in the success of this program,” Dr. Hoffman said. “I wish you a hearty congratulations for all you have accomplished to get to this point and all that you will accomplish and experience over the coming three years of your journey with us as partners in education and training, service, outreach, and scholarship.”

SIU School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Medicine has four other Family Medicine residency programs in Illinois – in Springfield, Quincy, Decatur and Carbondale, which have collectively graduated more than 900 Family Medicine physicians since the first residency program started in 1971.

PHOTO: The first six residents of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Alton Family Medicine Residency Program are, left to right, Dr. Christina Govas, Dr. Tyler Wright, Dr. Nazanin Kheirkhahan, Dr. Jonathan Klarich, Dr. Andrea Ramos Richards and Dr. Torry Pledger.

Profiles of the Six Residents

After a rigorous recruitment and interview season last fall and winter, six residents were matched to the SIU School of Medicine’s Family Residency Program at Alton Memorial Hospital in March.

The Class of 2024 includes:

Christina Govas, MD — Dr. Govas is a Greek-Canadian who completed her clinical rotations in Chicago after earning her medical degree from Saint James School of Medicine. She is a civil engineer who pursued medicine after volunteering in a mobile medical clinic in South Africa. She is very passionate about patient advocacy and health care access, especially in underserved communities. She loves rollerblading, animals, architecture and spending time outdoors. Christina is excited to bring her rollerblades and glide along the waterfront trails in Alton!

Nazanin Kheirkhahan, MD — Dr. Kheirkhahan was raised in Toronto and earned her medical degree from the Windsor University School of Medicine. Her family and family traditions are most important to her.  Fun fact: She loves the TV show “Friends” and has watched the full series more than 20 times! She loves animals (especially her dog, Coco), the outdoors, cooking, and baking.

Jonathan Klarich, MD — Dr. Klarich, a St. Louis native, comes from a family of seven, including a twin, and earned his medical degree from the Ross University School of Medicine. He loves outdoor activities and taking animal photos. Dr. Klarich has lived in many Caribbean countries and met his fiancee, Mariana, on the island of Curacao.  His favorite dinner is pizza and beer, and Dr. Klarich says, “Coffee is life.”

Torry Pledger, MD — Dr. Pledger was born in Europe, where he lived for a number of years during his youth, before permanently returning to the United States with his family. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology at the University of Maryland and received a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from Life University. Prior to attending medical school at Saint James School of Medicine, Dr. Pledger was an Exercise Physiologist with a focus on cardiac rehab. He has interests spanning across a wide range of topics, including sports medicine and urgent care. In his free time, he enjoys fishing, playing sports, and kayaking. Dr. Pledger was a walk-on for the University of Maryland football team and was part of a Division 1 National Championship rugby team at Life University.

Andrea Ramos Richards, MD, MPH — Dr. Richards was born in Lima, Peru, and lived there until she was 7. She earned her medical degree at the Tulane University School of Medicine. She’s been in the St. Louis area for most of her life and lives there with her husband, three children (Daniel, Christina, and Sofia), and two cats (Ralph and Oreo). Dr. Richards is an exercise enthusiast and has completed two marathons and multiple half marathons. She loves to bake, play piano, and sing. She was in an a capella group and rock band during medical school. As a member of the Peruvian American Medical Society, Dr. Richards has traveled to Peru for medical mission trips to underserved areas in her home country. Dr. Richards says, “I am beyond excited to start this new chapter of my life at SIU in Alton and cannot wait to get to know everyone.”

Tyler Wright, MD — Dr. Wright was raised in Northern California, majored in Biology/Pre-Med at California State Monterey Bay, and went to the University of Medicine and Health Sciences for medical school. He’s worked in the California county jail system providing mental health and medical services to inmates. Dr. Wright enjoys being in water and nature, so it’s no surprise that outdoor sports are his favorites. He loves to read, collect orchids, garden, stargaze, travel, and spend quality time with his family. Dr. Wright’s father is an anesthesiologist, so he grew up seeing how compassionate medical care makes a difference in patients’ lives. From a young age, Dr. Wright has participated in medical mission trips with his father and his colleagues. Dr. Wright says, “I’m passionate about Family Medicine and I look forward to working and living in Alton. I’m excited to jump in with both feet and be of service through quality medical care and volunteering/community service opportunities.”





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