ECU, UNC- Chapel Hill to Expand Medical Schools
By Doug Boyd
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has endorsed a plan to expand medical education at the state’s two public medical schools to address a predicted future physician shortage in the state.
The plan is based on a collaborative effort between the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. The Brody School of Medicine will work with the state’s Area Health Education Center network to expand opportunities for its students to spend much of their third and fourth years in clinical placement in underserved areas.
The board approved the plan on March 7.
UNC-Chapel Hill will develop facilities in Charlotte and Asheville to accommodate students in the last two years of their medical education. UNC-Chapel Hill’s expansion in Charlotte will involve a partnership with Carolinas Medical Center and collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in expanding research and related initiatives.
The expansion in Asheville will involve Mission Hospital, Mountain AHEC and the Western North Carolina Health Network.
This complex approach will require more planning as each component is developed. The Board of Governors also will consider future requests for funding from the General Assembly. The cumulative cost of the plan is expected to be near $450 million – the bulk of which would provide new and/or renovated facilities – and would be phased in over the next 10 years.
“This is a milestone for our medical schools as well as the people of North Carolina,” said UNC President Erskine Bowles.
“We have recognized for some time the threat of a physician shortage in our state. This coordinated plan for expansion positions us to better fulfill our mission to serve the medical needs of North Carolinians. I also applaud the leadership shown by our chancellors and the way our campuses have worked together to develop this joint plan.”
The Joint Plan for Medical Education in North Carolina calls for the following:
• Brody will expand its first-year medical school enrollment from 73 to 120 students in phases. Brody will admit 76 in August and 80 beginning as early as 2009. UNC-Chapel Hill will expand its medical school enrollment from 160 to 230 first-year students on a phased basis, starting in 2009. The timeline for increasing enrollment will be determined by the fall of 2008.
• Brody’s additional students will complete their third- and fourth-year clinical education at satellite training centers in eastern North Carolina. Those sites will be identified by early 2009. UNC-Chapel Hill’s additional 70 students will complete their third- and fourth-year rotations in either Charlotte (50) or Asheville (20), starting their regional placements in 2011.
The plan also calls for a task force representing public and private medical schools, Carolinas Medical Center, AHEC and the Sheps Center at UNC-Chapel Hill to develop a plan for expanding the number of residencies or slots for graduate medical education in North Carolina and to seek more federal funding to support these residencies.
Where a physician eventually decides to practice is highly correlated with where he or she completed a medical residency.
“We think 120 is a reasonable number for us if we get the additional resources we will need,” said Dr. Nicholas Benson, vice dean of the Brody School of Medicine.
“It’s a change that will impact everything this medical school does. We’re interested in producing doctors that are going to work in eastern North Carolina and across North Carolina.”
ECU officials will request $2 million in planning funds at this summer’s session of the N.C. General Assembly. Among other things, that money will help pay for identifying satellite training sites where third and fourth-year medical students would get their clinical education.
The North Carolina Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Medicine and the Association of American Medical Colleges predict a deficit of physicians by 2020, particularly in primary care. Already, fewer physicians are electing to go into primary care, and there are growing problems arising from imbalances in the geographic distribution of physicians.The predicted shortage is of particular concern in North Carolina, where the population is expected to grow 52 percent by 2030.