The Legacy and Future of UPMC Williamsport Family Medicine Residency

A Word From Program Director: Dana Kirschner, DO

For five decades, our residency program has been a beacon of growth and opportunity, offering a supportive learning environment that fuels personal and professional development. We train residents to become full-spectrum family doctors with a broad range of skills that enable them to pursue their dreams, become community leaders, and bring innovation to the forefront of medicine. Our strong residency program is an investment in UPMC’s future in the region. After completing their residencies here, many of our graduates choose to stay in the area and continue providing these services to our community. This benefits us all.

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The UPMC Williamsport Family Medicine Residency provides care for many patients within Lycoming County and the surrounding communities. Our residents and teams are able to care for our patients in many locations — the office, the hospital, labor and delivery, the nursery, and local nursing homes — which enables us to provide the full scope of primary care. We offer many procedures in our offices within the scope of family medicine, including long-acting contraception, joint injections, and dermatology procedures. We also offer clinics with specialization in prenatal care, colposcopy, osteopathic manipulation, and psychiatry.

In my time here, the residency has seen some memorable milestones. In 2018, we obtained Osteopathic Recognition, a designation conferred by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) to programs that demonstrate commitment to teaching osteopathic principles and practices. We also have developed a robust collaboration with the ob-gyn department to improve obstetrics education for our residents, while also providing pregnant persons access to ancillary services within our community.

Looking ahead to the future, we will continue our strong tradition of training well-rounded family physicians so they can follow their passions to practice through the many different opportunities offered within the specialty. This tradition will be balanced by incorporating enhanced technological resources and the needs of learners to come.

Dana Kirschner, DO, first came to UPMC Williamsport for a month as a medical student in the fall of 2014. She completed her residency here from 2015 through 2018 before becoming a faculty member in the program. She has been the program director since July 2023.

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A Model Residency Program with a Storied History

Since its first graduating class in 1974, the UPMC Williamsport Family Medicine Residency has been dedicated to preparing doctors to treat a full scope of ailments and conditions in patients ranging in age from newborn babies to

senior citizens.

Perhaps no one has a better historical view of how the Family Medicine Residency has grown than Jeff Verzella, MD, former program director and current assistant program director, who will be transitioning into retirement later this year. Dr. Verzella is the longest-standing faculty member with the Residency, having landed in Williamsport in 1989 by way of Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, then Fort Bragg, North Carolina, thanks to a U.S. Health Professions Scholarship.

In the spring of 2015, the Residency moved its operations to the Health Innovation Center. Prior to that, it was housed in the basement of the 699 Rural Avenue building across the street from the hospital. “There were no windows to let sunlight in, and as we grew, the quarters became cramped,” reminisces Dr. Verzella. “Now we are on the top floor of the Health Innovation Center with expanded teaching facilities. No more having to cross the street in the rain and snow!” Today the hospital, pharmacy, and medical equipment store, as well as the patient care, teaching, and conference rooms, are all under the same roof.


While Dana Kirschner, DO, remembers rotating in the old building as a student, she and her staff are very happy with the current setup of their Residency space. “It’s wonderful to have the administrative side and the patient care clinic all in one location,” she says. “It allows residents to have even more time to focus on patients and learning.”

Jess Smith, DO, is in her second year in the program and is a junior chief resident. Among her many responsibilities in that role, Dr. Smith helps with community outreach programs and events. “Making sure residents also have a chance to develop as caring professionals is one of the many ways this program is exceptional,” she notes.

Dr. Smith was inspired to choose Williamsport for her residency after doing a rotation here as a medical student. She shared that experience. “They are so nice here. They care about us as people. We have housing available to us in the building, so we can get rest and then jump right into our rotations,” says Dr. Smith, who is considering an obstetrics fellowship in the future. “This hospital is bigger than what you would expect for the geographic area, and we are a hub for a lot of smaller areas, so we get to see and do a lot. We are training in a broad spectrum of inpatient and outpatient care that is coordinated and interconnected.”

In his 35 years with the Residency, Dr. Verzella has witnessed many remarkable milestones. “We have one of the longest-standing programs in Pennsylvania, and even in the whole northeast,” he notes. “We have always had a strong teaching program, but as the hospital has grown, so has the Residency.” He sees a strong, steady pipeline of talent coming out of the program and choosing to stay in the area as perhaps the greatest achievement to celebrate on this 50th anniversary.

“I think that family medicine is transitioning to a more outpatient practice. We see an uptick in diseases such as diabetes and emphysema that require that kind of care,” says Dr. Verzella. “Because our residency is not in private practice but hospital-based, we teach all aspects. We teach not just outpatient but relevant inpatient work, so they are prepared.” UPMC Williamsport Family Medicine residents gain an understanding of what to expect from an Inpatient handoff and how to best hand off to other specialists. It makes them more well-rounded family physicians, according to Dr. Verzella.

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All in the Family

Dr. Verzella has instructed hundreds of residents over the years. They come from all over the United States, and even a few from as far away as Poland and Hungary. There have also been many from the central Pennsylvania corridor. He has even known a couple of residents who were born in the UPMC Williamsport hospital building. “We have had some families with multigenerational residents, too,” he adds.

One such legacy story belongs to the Manchester family. George Manchester, MD, is now retired. Previously, he served as senior vice president/chief medical officer at Susquehanna Health, and then as a full-time emergency department physician at UPMC Muncy. His daughter Morgan Manchester, MD, is a family physician with UPMC Family Medicine in Loyalsock. Both are graduates of the UPMC Williamsport Family Medicine Residency. Dr. George Manchester was a resident from 1979 through 1982. Dr. Morgan Manchester, who was also born at the hospital, was a resident from 2016 through 2019.

“The Residency training prepared me to deal with a lot of different kinds of specialists and helped me be a better advocate for my patients. It also gave me a foundation to build an administrative path from,” says Dr. George Manchester. “When Morgan told me she was going there too, I was excited. Family medicine is a great specialty and extremely important to patients.”

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“Watching my dad’s broad skills and the unopposed program in a community hospital were big factors that drew me to family medicine,” says Dr. Morgan Manchester. “I got to do a lot of ob-gyn, pediatrics, and emergency department time, which is what I wanted. I still interact with residents as an outpatient preceptor, and I can see the caliber of the program continues to be rigorous.”

A true family of caregivers, matriarch Brenda Terry-Manchester, MSN, CC, is the director of Women’s Health Services for UPMC in North Central Pa., and daughter Maggie Fantaskey, RN, is a nurse in UPMC Williamsport’s Step Down Unit. Although she does not have a career in medicine, daughter Meredith Manchester’s work as an attorney has been informed on a regular basis by her family’s experiences in health care. In addition to all that the family does through their professional pursuits, the Manchester Family Endowment provides support for women’s health needs through Susquehanna Health Foundation.

New Rural Residency Program Begins

One in five people live in rural areas. Oftentimes, living in these geographic locations results in a lack of access to adequate health care. Only 1% of residents train in rural areas, and just 11% of doctors serve them. It is no wonder that rural Americans tend to be older and sicker than people in more urban areas, with higher rates of death from heart disease, lung disease, cancer, stroke, injury, and suicide than their urban peers.

“We first considered creating this program about 10 years ago,” says John Boll, DO, FAAFP, program director of the new UPMC Rural Family Medicine Residency. “We knew there were health equity issues affecting our very rural communities, but we did not yet have the resources or accreditation for our own program.” In 2019, work began to secure federal Rural Residency Program and Development Grant funding, and last year ACGME accreditation was obtained to establish the UPMC Rural Family Medicine Residency. The first students will begin in the program this July.

The Rural Family Medicine Residency has two residents per year. Residents spend their first year at UPMC Williamsport, a Level II Trauma Center, learning the basics of practicing family medicine. Their second and third years will be spent polishing their family medicine skills at either UPMC Wellsboro or UPMC Cole. These are critical-access hospitals in rural, underserved communities.

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According to Dr. Boll, 19% of doctors stay where they trained. This residency program can be a recruiting tool that helps bring family physicians to regional rural areas that truly need them.

From the UPMC Williamsport Family Medicine Residency side, Dr. Kirschner looks forward to this expansion. “We are excited to welcome two additional first-year residents in June 2024 to the Williamsport campus,” she says. “Our goal is to prepare them well to complete their residency in the rural regions and become excellent, well-rounded family physicians who are able to work in resource-scarce areas.”

“Susquehanna Health Foundation was phenomenal in supporting the Rural Family Medicine Residency,” says Dr. Boll. “This really has been a team effort that has included the people from the Residency faculty, staff, teams, and administrators at every level. And the fact that we can launch this new addition to our phenomenal Residency program during the 50th anniversary year feels fitting.”

How to Support the UPMC Williamsport Family Medicine Residency

To celebrate the Residency’s 50 years of graduating residents, make a gift to support training equipment and residency programs that assist families in need. You can also choose to support the new Residency Endowment, which will allow the program to remain vibrant, innovative, and cutting-edge for years to come.