SCRANTON —“I hope I don’t see you tomorrow,” Dr. Kevin Musto cheerfully told the patient. “I hope you can go home today.”
Returning the resident physician’s smile, Walburga Pileggi of Clifford said she enjoyed the food at Geisinger - Community Medical Center. Nevertheless, she wanted to go home.
Musto, 27, understands the strong appeal of home, the way roots can call to a person.
“I feel fortunate to have grown up in Pittston,” he said during an interview last week, adding he hopes to someday raise his future children in the area. “That would be fantastic.”
Meanwhile, Musto is grateful he’s been able to remain in Northeastern Pennsylvania through all of his medical training.
“I had a great university in my backyard, a great medical school in my backyard and a great residency up the road,” he said, referring to the University of Scranton, The Commonwealth Medical College and The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education.
At first, family and friends had to be convinced all this local training was the right choice — especially when Musto gave up a coveted position as a student at Temple University School of Medicine in favor of applying for TCMC’s class of 2014. “They thought I was throwing away a golden opportunity,” he said.
Then, four years later, he gave a repeat performance of sorts.
Instead of applying for residencies in distant cities, he turned to the non-profit Wright Center, which arranged for him to serve his residency at hospitals and primary care centers around the region.
“It’s the best decision I ever made,” he said, explaining that staying local has given him a headstart on building relationships with other health-care professionals in the area as well as with patients.
“If I went somewhere else for medical school or for a residency and then came back,” Musto said, “I’d be starting from scratch.”
Recalling one patient who made a particularly strong impression during the first year of his residency, Musto said he encountered the man in an intensive care unit and later in a hospital setting.
The man was facing surgery and had been told he might not survive. “He was scared and angry and taking it out on the staff because he was scared,” Musto said.
Musto took extra time to talk to the patient about what to expect and the man, who did survive the operation, was elated to see the young doctor again at an outpatient clinic.
“He said ‘I could tell you really cared,’” Musto said of the patient who had once been so angry. “Now he’s the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet.”
Among the 151 residents serving their first, second or third year with The Wright Center, Musto said his status as an area native makes him a rarity.
Yemen, China, Japan, Egypt, Syria, Montenegro, Turkey, India, Haiti, Ethiopia and the Philippines are some of the other places that have sent newly minted physicians to serve residencies.
But no matter where they’re from, Wright Center senior vice president Brian Ebersole said, he hopes most of them remain in Northeastern Pennsylvania or close to it.
“Our hope is that we’re creating a pipeline of physicians for rural and under-served areas,” Ebersole said, pointing to a report that listed total internal medicine alumni (from 1980 to 2013) as 278, with 127 practicing in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area for a 68 percent retention rate.
Describing The Wright Center “the best-kept secret in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Ebersole said it was established in the late 1970s as the Scranton/Temple Residency Program.
The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, no longer affiliated with Temple, has grown over the years and its sister organization, The Wright Center for Primary Care, runs clinics in Scranton, Jermyn and Clarks Summit.
In addition to providing health care, The Wright Center has collected toys and gently-used books for needy children.
On a larger scale, the center applied for and received four separate grants of $500,000 each from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to renovate the nurses’ suites in the Scranton, Valley View, North Pocono and Lakeland school districts.
Children who visit the suites are likely to find a nurse practitioner or medical resident on site instead of a registered nurse, Ebersole said. In some cases, he said, that higher level of health care at the school could eliminate a need for a student’s parents to take time off from work and take the child to a hospital. “We’re providing a safety net,” he said.