Turning doctors into leaders

The UNC Department of Family Medicine was recently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in its annual survey of medical schools. It was the highest ranked Family Medicine department in the eastern United States.

The department’s rankings are consistently high year after year, and one look at the statistics will explain why. One fourth of all current and former family medicine department chairs across the country have come through our department’s residency or fellowship programs. 

“We feel honored to be acknowledged again this year,” said Warren Newton, MD, chair of the department of family medicine.  “Over the years, we have been recognized for developing new models of teaching and practice across the country.”

UNC’s faculty development fellowship plays a large role in preparing junior family medicine faculty to take on high-level positions, like chair positions. The program is one of the last of its kind in the country and attracts doctors in early-career academic faculty positions, generally just a few years out of residency, said Dawn Brock, who is the fellowship coordinator.

Faculty development fellows, usually about 16 per year from across the country, remain in their own university faculty positions, but spend six weeks on campus with the UNC Department of Family Medicine over a nine-month period. The program’s curriculum is divided into four components: evidence-based practice; teaching and learning; professional development and communication; and future of family medicine seminars.

For the evidence-based medicine component, fellows must complete a scholarly project and present it in June at the Fellows Symposium. Although the fellows are advised by UNC faculty on their projects, most of the work is completed on their home campuses. For the teaching and learning component, the fellows, who are all in teaching roles, are taught planning skills and must develop a curriculum and give a teaching presentation to a large group of family medicine residents and faculty. The professional development and communication component is the most personal for the fellows, said Brock. They get one-on-one CV critiques and career advice. They are taught leadership and management skills. During each of the sessions, which take place in August, November, March and June, the fellows’ coursework is supplemented with future of family medicine seminars, given by non-UNC faculty, which expose the fellows to leaders in the family medicine field from across the country.

“Through their shared experiences over the course of the year, the fellows learn as much from each other as they do from the faculty,” said Sam Weir, MD, faculty development fellowship director.

The department is also home to a highly regarded residency program. “We offer a full-spectrum, full-scope clinical education,” said Clark Denniston, MD, residency director. “We train residents to go all over the country, all over the world, and from day one be able to meet the health care needs of their community.”

Denniston said to reach that goal, UNC’s curriculum is more rigorous than most other programs, with extensive experience in obstetrics and internal medicine.  “What that training does is enables our graduates to be versatile,” he said. In small communities, according to Denniston, they may be the only doctor immediately available. “When our graduates go around the country, they are seen as being phenomenally well trained,” he said.

“So our graduates are our best ambassadors. Thanks to them, I think advisors at top tier medical schools say, ‘If you are interested in family medicine, you need to go look at UNC.’”  That’s certainly what the recent U.S. News and World Report ranking says.