COOS BAY – Bay Area Hospital will become a training venue for aspiring surgeons from Oregon Health & Science University, the two institutions announced Friday.

Starting this spring, a few of OHSU’s third- and fourth-year surgical residents will work at BAH each year, experiencing the challenges and opportunities of rural surgical careers.

“This is a great learning environment,” said Paul Janke, BAH’s chief executive officer.

The program is expected to benefit not only the residents, but also patients, the hospital, and the local surgeons who will mentor the young doctors.

The plan calls for two residents at a time to spend six months to a year at BAH. They’ll be supervised by Dr. Steven Giss, Dr. Steven Tersigni and Dr. Charles James. All are board-certified general surgeons in Coos Bay and assistant clinical professors of surgery at OHSU.

For surgical patients, the presence of residents will mean more face-to-face time with physicians. For the surgeons-in-training, it’s a chance to hone their skills on a broader and more challenging caseload than they might experience in a big-city hospital.

While residents learn from local surgeons, the local surgeons will absorb new ideas and up-to-date techniques in return, Tersigni said.

The residency program enhances the existing cooperative relationship between Bay Area Hospital and OHSU – a relationship BAH leaders are working to strengthen.

“If you have a relationship in one area, it helps to foster relationships more broadly,” said Dr. Karen Deveney, who heads OHSU’s surgical residency program.

“I think it’s good for Coos Bay, and it’s good for us,” she added.

Residents coming to BAH will already be licensed physicians, with two or three years of clinical experience behind them.

“We don’t let them go unless we’re confident they’ll perform at a high level,” Deveney said.

Hospital officials hope exposing young surgeons to small-town healthcare can help create a recruitment pipeline from OHSU to BAH. Giss said practicing in a rural community can give a general surgeon a flexible schedule, professional autonomy, and a slightly better earning potential than working in a major city.

Though not every young surgeon wants to practice general surgery in a small community, Deveney said some do. The most likely prospects are doctors who grew up in small communities – and who later served residencies in rural hospitals.

The program kicks off this spring with a surgical resident who fits that mold. Dr. Vicente Undurraga grew up in the Patagonia region of southern Chile, west of the Andes Mountains. He described the region as “a pretty rural area,” with geography similar to Oregon’s.

After immigrating to the United States with his parents, Undurraga graduated from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school. He has completed three years of OHSU’s five-year surgical residency program, as well as a year of medical research.

Undurraga said he enjoys outdoor activities including fishing, crabbing, clamming, duck hunting and mountain biking.

“I am definitely interested in living in a smaller city,” he said. “I’m just excited to see what it’s like in Coos Bay.”

Undurraga’s six-week stint at BAH will be a warm-up for the surgical residency program in Coos Bay. Starting in July, BAH will have two surgical residents at a time, each staying six months to a year.