Accelerating Toward Service: Family Medicine Pipeline Program Kicks Off

A new family medicine pipeline program allows students to complete their MD in three years, secure placement in the UNC Family Medicine Residency Program, and receive support through three years of underserved care in NC.

 Accelerating Toward Service: Family Medicine Pipeline Program Kicks Off click to enlarge Cristen Page, MD, MPH

By Jamie Williams,, 984-974-1149

This week, the inaugural class of the UNC School of Medicine’s Fully Integrated Readiness for Service Training (FIRST) Program begins its training. The FIRST Program provides participants the opportunity to complete their MD in three years and – subject to academic and performance standards – includes the opportunity for placement in the UNC Family Medicine Residency Program which is ranked second nationally by U.S. News & World Report. After the completion of residency training, the graduates commit to three years of practice in an underserved area of North Carolina.

“This opportunity is truly one-of-a-kind,” said FIRST Program Director Cristen Page, MD, MPH. “We know that other states have successfully used accelerated programs to address the critical shortage of primary care physicians, but none include the full pipeline from medical school to residency to primary care service in underserved communities.”

The first class of three students is comprised of Thane Campbell, Thomas D’Angelo, and Kyle Melvin. They were chosen on the basis of their demonstrated commitment to family medicine, service to vulnerable populations in North Carolina, outstanding academic accomplishments, and leadership skills.

“As someone who grew up in this state, I’m incredibly humbled by the opportunity to serve North Carolina in such a direct and meaningful way,” Melvin said.

Page emphasizes that the program will be tailored to meet the needs of FIRST Program scholars with a focus on primary care and care of the underserved, “I think of this as an enhanced medical school experience, not just accelerated,” said Page, who is also interim chair of the department of family medicine.

As part of that enhanced experience, students will receive hands-on clinical training early in the program while also benefitting from mentorship opportunities and a close integration with the UNC Family Medicine Residency Program.

Catherine Coe, MD, a second-year family medicine resident, will serve as the program’s resident liaison.

“We hope to foster an environment that the students can call home for the duration of this program,” Coe said. “We are all looking forward to serving as mentors for this first class and hope we can inspire them. I’m sure we will also learn a lot from Thane, Thomas, and Kyle.”

A major benefit of this program is the opportunity to build long-term relationships with patients during clinical training.

“Family medicine physicians are such vital parts of community life in towns across our state and so we felt like it was important for students to get a feel for patient relationships and responsibility as early and often as possible,” Page said. “It’s critical that our students interact with patients across the entire continuum of care and gain early responsibility for population health outcomes of their patient panels.”

This program is a partnership between the UNC Department of Family Medicine, the NC Office of Rural Health and Community Care, North Carolina Area Health Education Centers, UNC Physicians Network, Piedmont Health Services, and the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians. The program receives funding support from The Duke Endowment. In addition to Page and Coe, Beat Steiner, MD, assistant dean for clinical education, serves as the FIRST Program’s associate director.

Discussions are already underway to expand the program in the coming years both to add more scholars and to collaborate with other campuses across North Carolina.

Page sees the FIRST Program as an extension of the UNC School of Medicine’s ongoing efforts to train the state’s next generation of primary care doctors and credits the school’s leaders for their willingness to take a multipronged and creative approach to addressing North Carolina’s health care needs.

“Training these students in an educational culture focused on full scope and underserved care is a great way to prepare them to serve in the parts of our state that have the greatest needs for high quality medical care,” Page said. “I’m thankful that UNC and The Duke Endowment have been so supportive of this new training program.”

About the UNC Department of Family Medicine:

The vision of the Department of Family Medicine is to promote the health of the people of North Carolina and the nation through leadership and innovation in clinical practice, medical education, research, and community service. As an instrument of the state of North Carolina, the department is concerned with both current needs and future generations, and has a special commitment to the underserved, mothers and children, the elderly, and other populations at risk in a time of rapid changes in the organization of health care.

About the Duke Endowment:

Based in Charlotte and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds, and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $3.3 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but they are separate organizations.

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