Training center and hospital

Duke University’s School of Medicine has secured an accreditor’s permission to launch a program that will post medical residents to Maria Parham Health in Henderson for training.

HENDERSON — Duke University’s medical school has received permission to go ahead with plans to launch a “rural training track” that initially will see two residents a year do a large portion of their training at Maria Parham Health.

The approval of the program came recently from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the Chicago-based nonprofit that sets standards for residency programs throughout the U.S.

Duke School of Medicine officials had already signaled their intention to launch the new Maria Parham residency, but needed a sign-off from the accreditor before they could go ahead. They’ve already begun recruiting prospective residents for the two slots.

Program director Dr. Thomas Koinis said officials are “rapidly gearing up for this year’s match to bring in the initial two residents to start the program.”

Residencies in most cases are the culmination of the training regimen for new doctors and only begin after they’ve completed their four-year medical degree. Residents in teaching hospitals like Duke’s take on responsibilities for patient care under the supervision of fully trained and licensed physicians.

The Duke school’s family medicine program already places residents at Duke Health’s clinic in Oxford, but administrators sought a link to Maria Parham to expose them to the ins-and-outs of treating people in a small-hospital setting.

The plan calls for the new residents to do their first-year work in Durham, and then split much of their time in their second and third years between the Oxford clinic and Maria Parham. The Oxford clinic offers outpatient care, while Maria Parham has an emergency room and inpatient treatment rooms.

The curriculum at Maria Parham will include rotations through emergency medicine, surgery, orthopedics, obstetrics, family medicine and ambulatory medicine. Residents will work under the supervision of Maria Parham’s attending physicians and of Koinis.

Because the school will take on two new residents each year, by the summer of 2023 that means it will have at least six residents working in various stages of their training at any given time. But Duke officials hope to expand the program by 2024 or 2025 to bring in four new residents each year, so that at its eventual peak 12 residents will be training at any one time.

Duke and Maria Parham are launching the program in hopes of reducing North Carolina’s shortage of primary care physicians and of rural doctors, a problem long on the radar of the N.C. General Assembly and the state’s medical schools.

Counting public and private institutions, there are five medical schools — at Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, Wake Forest University and Campbell University — in North Carolina.

But because a medical education is expensive, new doctors typically go into more lucrative specialities rather than into general practice. And even if they stay in-state, most opt to practice in urban areas.

The UNC system’s Board of Governors tracks the issue for the state, and the reports to it have noted that the best way to convince a new doctor to consider practicing in rural areas is to see to it that they do their residencies in rural counties.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.