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Officials: Wilmington Medical School Campus Could Help Attract Physicians To Area

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 2, 2016
Creation of a new University of North Carolina School of Medicine campus based at New Hanover Regional Medical Center could help change the health care landscape in southeastern North Carolina, officials said at a recent news conference.

Third- and fourth-year UNC medical students will spend a year training at the Wilmington campus. Currently 20-30 students come through NHRMC’s rotation program each year but spend only about four weeks, according to officials.

At a news conference Tuesday, Joseph Pino, vice president of graduate medical education at NHRMC and director of the new campus, and William Roper, dean of the UNC School of Medicine, talked about the benefits of a regional campus in southeastern North Carolina. UNC’s medical school already has branch campuses in Asheville and in Charlotte.

Those benefits include the ability to attract more young physicians to the area – especially to underserved rural parts of the state’s southeastern counties.

“Seventy-five percent of [physicians] who do their residencies here end up practicing here,” Pino said, noting that surgery was the first residency program at NHRMC, and the Wilmington area has gained many general surgeons as a result.

Roper confirmed that medical resources in North Carolina are disproportionately located in metropolitan areas, leaving many rural areas underserved. The branch medical school campuses strive to address that distribution problem, he said, pointing to a pilot program in Asheville.

“It’s the fourth year of a program founded by the Kenan Charitable Trust to incent young people to go into careers in underserved rural areas,” Roper said, adding that the medical school hopes to expand that program to Wilmington. One of the incentives offered by the Kenan Primary Care Medical Scholars Program is student loan forgiveness.

“That’s huge,” Pino said.

Pino also said that the medical students will spend some time during their year at clinics in rural southeastern North Carolina, working with other health professionals.

“Through SEAHEC [South East Area Health Education Center] we have developed relationships with [University of North Carolina Wilmington’s] College of Health and Human Services and the School of Social Work, and we can integrate services. For instance, a person is ill but has some behavioral issues. All these we can see in a clinic,” he said. “We’re creating new models of care. Health care is undergoing a transformation. The Internet has changed the way we work. Health care has to adapt, and adopt changes.”

Medical students will also be able to enroll in the Physicians Leadership Certificate program offered by UNCW’s Cameron School of Business. That program is designed to help physicians be comfortable running a practice, the business school's dean Rob Burrus said in an email Wednesday. Because of the many credits they are required to complete to qualify for medical school, undergraduates may not have time to take courses that would help them become managers.

“The program is a comprehensive look into running a healthcare organization and gives physicians a greater ability to manage their practices,” Burrus said in his email. “Topics include leadership, information technology, human resource management, accounting, financial management, strategy, patient satisfaction and regulatory matters. All of these topics are vital in providing the high quality and cost effective healthcare outcomes that patients desire.”

UNC medical school’s new Wilmington campus has deliberately started small. The pilot year, which began Tuesday, has three students, but the program will gradually expand to about 24 students per year, Pino said. Their curriculum consists of four core courses that allow students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. Full-time faculty members of the UNC School of Medicine already based at NHRMC will lead the course work, according to officials.

Pino said he's looking forward to having those medical students on the new campus for their yearlong program.

“Young people challenge you; they push you to be an outstanding physician, clinician,” he said. “Bright young people can invigorate you, and we're taking top-tier students from an outstanding institution."
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