When Shilpi Garg needed to complete a pediatric residency program as part of her medical studies, she left Reno and headed to California’s Central Valley to enroll in the University of San Francisco-Fresno pediatrics scholars program.
Garg grew up in Northern Nevada and still has family here. She knew she would return to the Biggest Little City after completing her pediatrics residency and a fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland.
“I grew up in Reno most of my life and went to undergraduate and medical school at UNR,” said Garg, pediatric cardiologist with Children's Heart Center Nevada. “I would have liked to stay in Reno because this is my home, but I had to seek residencies outside of town. I was hoping to come back to Reno, and thankfully there was a job opening after I finished my fellowship.”
A new partnership between the University of Nevada’s School of Medicine and Renown Health will allow future UNR med students the opportunity to complete their pediatric residency requirements in Northern Nevada. The program could lead to many UNR-trained medical students planting roots in Reno-Sparks rather than leaving the community, said Dr. Melissa Piasecki, acting dean of UNR Med and chief academic officer for Renown.
Piasecki told NNBW that as many as 70 percent of medical students end up staying in the communities in which they complete their residencies.
“One of the strategies we have for growing our workforce of pediatricians is to have home-grown pediatricians,”' she said. “We have got amazing medical students who graduate every year and go out of state for residencies in pediatrics, and they don’t necessarily come back to Northern Nevada.
“This residency is really aligned with that strategy of growing our own and meeting our community’s needs,” Piasecki added. “But it’s also about how to train this group of new pediatricians to be community-focused and engaged with our rural communities.”
There are many students who want to stay in the area, but have to leave to complete a variety of residencies, said Garg, who also works as clinical assistant professor and associate program director for the pediatric residency at UNR School of Medicine and is the chief pediatric medical executive at Renown Children’s Hospital.
“A lot of them lose that connection to the community, and sometimes when that connection is lost, students stay where they did their residency,” she said. “Most people stay where they train. I would love to see that happen here, where we train students and they stay here for several years or perhaps spend their lifetimes serving their community.”
Piasecki said the new pediatrics residency program is a result of the 50-year affiliation agreement signed in 2021 between UNR Med and Renown. The agreement established the state’s first integrated health system and was endorsed by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, Renown Health board, both houses of the Nevada Legislature and Gov. Steve Sisolak, who signed Senate Bill 342 into law in May 2021, authorizing the NSHE to enter into such agreements.
“We had tremendous support moving forward with this agreement,” Piasecki said. “It brought us together in a way where we could quickly advance this pediatric residency. We had an agreement to move forward on this (residency) within six months of signing the affiliation agreement.
“There’s no understating the importance of this agreement, not just for this residency but for growing medical education and our health profession workforce, short-term and long-term, for Northern Nevada,” she added. “We have terrific people at Renown and at the School of Medicine working together, and the potential is huge — the pediatric residency program is just the beginning.”
Garg said the new residency program will be a boon not only for medical students but for the community as a whole, since it addresses a pressing need for more pediatricians to serve the growing population of Reno-Sparks, as well as Northern Nevada’s smaller and rural communities.
“It is a long time coming,” she said. “We are short on general pediatricians and pediatric services in this community. Since I was a student here, our pediatric community has grown a lot, but we have a long way to go.
“I am excited that we will be able to train pediatricians here who understand what our community needs, what the kids in this community need, and what resources are missing for them,” Garg added. “It will be so unique to have pediatricians who trained here and will hopefully continue to work here and provide more equitable care to the kids in our community.”
Residents will study for three years, with the primary goal of becoming general pediatricians, Garg said. Residency students will rotate between working with Renown and private practice pediatricians, as well as sub-specialists such as Garg, who heads the Children's Heart Center of Nevada and focuses on pediatric cardiology and pulmonology. Residents also will be able to take electives at the University of Utah’s pediatrics residency program to broaden their exposure to pediatric specialty care at a large tertiary care pediatric institution.
“They will get a well-rounded education over a three-year period, but the goal is to train them to provide excellent primary care to our community,” Garg said. “We really want to pick candidates who want to provide primary care services and have an interest in providing those services to some of the underserved populations in our community.”