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Grant to boost primary care education

Dr. Elizabeth Fry, left, and ECU medical student Kelley Haven, are participating in a new program to mentor aspiring family medicine doctors. Photo by Cliff Hollis
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (June 15, 2010)   —   East Carolina University medical students who have an interest in family medicine will be among those who may benefit from a new program funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation to mentor aspiring family doctors.

The foundation has announced a $1.18 million grant to the N.C. Academy of Family Physicians Foundation that will increase medical students' exposure to innovative practice in family medicine and encourage more of the state's medical students to pursue a career in family medicine, ultimately ensuring that more North Carolinians have access to high quality primary care.

"This grant from BCBS of North Carolina is the most significant response to the growing need for family physicians from the health care industry I have seen," said Dr. Dean Patton, a longtime professor of family medicine and director of the medical student education division at ECU. "This grant has the potential to make a school that has chosen to remain faithful to its mandated mission an even more significant player in meeting the critical health care needs of our region."

The following ECU students will participate in the program for the 2010-2011 academic year: Hannah Fuhr of Chapel Hill, Kelley Haven of Greenville, Ashley Hink of Raleigh, Holly Love of Mount Pleasant and Patrick Williams of Hickory. A total of 11 students from ECU, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University are participating.

Physician mentors who are participating are Mark E. Beamer of Belhaven (Pungo Family Medicine), Sara O. Beyer of Charlotte (Steele Creek Family Practice), Jonathan E. Fischer of Carrboro (Piedmont Health Services), Conrad L. Flick of Raleigh (Family Medical Associates of Raleigh), Brian R. Forrest of Apex (Access Healthcare), Elizabeth P. Fry of Greenville (Physicians East), Michelle F. Jones of Wilmington (Wilmington Health Associates), David E. Lee of Lewisville (Family Medical Associates), J. Thomas Newton of Clinton (Clinton Medical Clinic), Charles W. Rhodes of Mount Pleasant (Cabarrus Family Medicine) and J. Carson Rounds of Wake Forest (Village Family Medicine).

Recently passed health care reform legislation will increase the number of North Carolinians who are insured and who seek regular primary care, exacerbating the shortfall of primary care physicians, according to BCBS. A 2006 American Academy of Family Physicians Workforce Study estimated that the United States will need approximately 39,000 more family physicians by 2020. North Carolina now has about 2,700 family physicians, with projections indicating the state will need 2,000 more by 2020 in order to address the state's health care needs. While the number of family physicians in North Carolina is growing, current rates of growth would meet only 75 percent of the projected need.

Nearly a fifth of the graduates of the Brody School of Medicine choose family medicine as their career, according to the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. That percentage ranked ECU second in the nation this year, according to STFM.

"Communities across North Carolina work hard to attract quality physicians to provide primary care for our citizens," said Brad Wilson, chairman of the BCBSNC Foundation. "However, we are already faced with a national shortage of primary care physicians, and the recently passed health care reform legislation will mean an increase in the number of folks seeking care. We hope that through this initiative, North Carolina medical students will receive the help and incentive they need to make a commitment to family medicine."

The grant supports the establishment of the Family Medicine Interest and Scholars Program, a two-tiered effort to help increase the number of North Carolina-trained medical students who elect family medicine residency programs and go on to practice in the state.

"With the urgent need for more primary care physicians, we are proud to support a program that will have a real impact on this state," said Kathy Higgins, president of the BCBSNC Foundation. "Identifying students early who are interested in a career in family medicine and helping them reach that goal will in turn benefit communities all across North Carolina."

The program aims to increase the percentage of medical students who commit to a residency in family medicine by approximately 30 percent and the percentage of those who elect to stay in the state for their residency training from 56 percent in 2008 to at least two-thirds over the length of the six-year program. This grant is expected to yield a significant return on investment. According to the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies, the annual economic impact of one new family physician to the state of North Carolina is more than $950,000.

The program will provide North Carolina medical students with role models in family medicine, pairing them with innovative family physicians in clinical practice settings. These physician mentors will work with students for three consecutive years to strengthen skills, offer guidance and help fast-track their health care leadership training and experience.

The program also targets a broader audience of medical students to increase interest in family medicine by improving and increasing interaction between practicing family physicians and students at each of North Carolina's four medical schools.

"The North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians is committed to improving primary and family health care in North Carolina, and our hope is that this program sparks the health care industry to look for more innovative ways to address the primary care shortage in our state," said Greg Griggs, executive vice president of NCAFP. "We understand that pursuing family medicine is often not an easy choice for medical students. We believe this grant will help make family medicine more of an option for North Carolina medical students. And the access to dedicated mentors will help these students provide quality medical care to patients across the state."

Students who participate in the scholars program will also receive additional exposure to family medicine throughout their schooling, including additional clinical experiences, and will have the opportunity to access scholarship funding if they ultimately enter a family medicine residency program.


Contact: Doug Boyd | 252-744-2482