“Teaching is Fun!”: Dr. Heintzelman’s Role in Residency

Aug 18 2023

“Teaching is fun!” J. Alex Heintzelman, MD, (pictured above, right) a family physician and director of Mercy Health – St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Rural Pathway at Mercy Health – Columbiana Primary Care, shares.

“Figuring out how to communicate in ways that another person accurately understands what you’re saying is a key tenet of medical practice. The same applies to teaching. Seeing a learner ‘get’ something for the first time is both exciting and rewarding. Plus, passing on good patient care and practice habits has the potential to reach many more people than I could do by myself in a career.”

Dr. Heintzelman is an attending physician who has been practicing in his hometown of Columbiana, Ohio for 10 years and has been precepting resident family physicians since the first class started in 2016.

“Combining a teaching role with my clinical role allows me a portion of time that I can spend focusing on community health needs and how to best address them,” Dr. Heintzelman shares.

This is especially true for his work within the rural pathway of the family residency program where Dr. Heintzelman leads family medicine residents in learning about the health disparities and health care access barriers faced by rural communities due to geography, culture and other social determinants of health.

“The creation of our rural pathway allows me to advocate for my neighbors and educate a generation of physicians about the health care aspects that differ for these people relative to the traditional urban-centric distribution of health care resources and education,” he explains.

Within his role as educator, Dr. Heintzelman is most proud of the team effort involved in guiding graduate family physicians who have spent years of dedication and sacrifice to pursue a career in medicine.

“Each of my colleagues in our program has their own strengths, and they are deeply compassionate individuals who care about their neighbors and communities,” Dr. Heintzelman says. “In particular, I think they do a great job of making sure that groups of people who have traditionally not had a loud voice in the medical realm are well heard.”

He continues, “hearing positive feedback from patients about a health care experience they had with one of our current residents or graduate physicians is the most rewarding feeling involved with teaching. ‘My doctor spent time with me,’ ‘my doctor listened to me,’ ‘my doctor figured out what was wrong’ are especially rewarding to hear.”

While each day of teaching or being a doctor may not be filled with miraculous breakthroughs, Dr. Heintzelman shares there is daily happiness found in the fun and laughs shared within the health care team.

“The ‘wow’ moments are wonderful, but the collegiality with coworkers and patients is a daily blessing.”

The St. Elizabeth Boardman Family Medicine Residency Rural Pathway at Mercy Health – Columbiana Primary Care is now accepting patients with Dr. Cooper Johnson, a resident physician (pictured above, left). For more information or to make an appointment, please call 330-482-9350.

Learn about the primary care services we provide at Mercy Health.

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