(June 21, 2004)
To help alleviate the shortage of diabetes specialists in eastern North Carolina, a one-year diabetes fellowship for primary care physicians has been launched at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.
The diabetes fellowship program will be funded by a three-year grant from The Duke Endowment as well as $25,000 a year from the Eastern Area Health Education Center and annual support from Pitt County Memorial Hospital and the Brody School of Medicine.
Dr. Robert Tanenberg, an endocrinologist and professor of internal medicine in the division of endocrinology and medical director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center at ECU, will lead the fellowship program. The fellowship’s goals include addressing the growing number of people in eastern North Carolina who have diabetes or will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
“There are approximately 18 million people in America with diabetes and only about 3,000 endocrinologists. The vast majority of people with diabetes are being taken care of by over-worked family practitioners,” Tanenberg said. This fellowship will help increase the number of physicians trained in state-of-the-art diabetes management in eastern North Carolina, he said.
“We want to recruit and train primary care physicians – pediatricians, family medicine and internal medicine physicians,” Tanenberg said. “They will spend a year here at ECU and PCMH as fellows and then go out and practice in the outlying regions. Our committee looked at several young physicians who are passionate about diabetes to come here and learn and then go out and deliver the best possible diabetes care to our area.”
The first fellows in the program are Dr. Aimar P. Mack, who completed her internal medicine residency training at ECU, and Dr. Pardeep K. Sharma, who completed a geriatrics fellowship with the Department of Family Medicine at ECU. They are both slated to begin the one-year program in August.
The state and national statistics on diabetes are staggering:
--Diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States with more than 16 million persons affected by the disease.
--By 2025, the number of people in the United States with diabetes is expected to grow to 22 million, or 9 percent of the total population.
--Estimates are that one-third of all children born in the United States in 2000 will eventually develop Type-2 diabetes.
--The cost of health care for people with diabetes doubled from 1997 to 2002 and has reached $132 million.
--North Carolina saw a 42 percent increase in the number of people with diabetes from 1995 to 2000.
--In 2002, approximately 600,000 people in North Carolina had known diabetes.
For Taneberg, the numbers are troubling for several reasons. For one, many people are walking around with diabetes, diagnosed and undiagnosed.
Also, health care providers treating these people may not have expertise in diabetes. Many people with diabetes in eastern North Carolina have few health care specialists to treat them, Tanenberg said.
“Of the counties served by University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina and the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, only 21 endocrinologists are actively practicing in these counties. Seventeen of those physicians are in Greenville or Wilmington, leaving only four for the rest of eastern North Carolina east of Interstate 95,” he said. “Some cities have no practicing endocrinologists or diabetologists, such as Rocky Mount, New Bern, Wilson, Washington, Tarboro, Kinston, Elizabeth City and Ahoskie.”
Tanenberg, a specialist in the care of people with diabetes for 28 years, hopes the fellowship will inspire other medical schools to realize diabetes care is a growing need and create similar programs to increase the number of diabetes specialists around the country. Only in this way will the underserved be able to re