SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) – The Florida Department of Health-Walton County is partnering with Ascension Sacred Heart to start a residency program.

The hospital will utilize medical students from the University of Florida.

Walton Health officials said research shows there’s a major shortage of healthcare clinicians in the community.

“Because of that we have been looking for different ways to increase those clinicians, those numbers within our community and was basically approached by Ascension Sacred Heart and UF about a partnership using our Coastal Branch facility,” Florida Department of Health Health Officer Holly Holt said.

The first class would include six physicians, with six more joining the program each year for the following two years.

From that point, the 3-year program will always have 18 physicians rotating through the clinic.

“It’s very crucial to be able to have a family practice residency here in Walton County,” Ascension Sacred Heart Senior Business Development Director Roger Hall said. “The number one health issue we have is just accessing, there’s not enough access and that has a cascading impact on the quality of healthcare for our community.”

Hall said statistics show that a good portion of them will stay within the community once they’ve completed the program.

“Every time we have tried to look at trying to provide a provider or a medical doctor down at this coastal branch, we have not been able to keep them due to various reasons so this is going to provide that care that is needed in this community,” Holt said.

If it’s a success in South Walton, Holt hopes to expand the program to other parts of the county.

The residents are scheduled to arrive at the clinic in January 2023.