"The joy I get is being able to pass along my passion for family medicine."

Who’s your doctor? That’s a simple enough question; but one with no answer for a growing number of North Carolinians. Like the rest of the country, North Carolina doesn’t have enough primary care physicians to meet the needs of its people.

So, what’s the problem? Family medicine is hard work. The hours are long. The pay scale doesn’t compete with that of some specialty practices. Family practice isn’t for every medical student. For Patrick Williams, a student at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, it’s the right specialty – a specialty of relationships. And with his mentor, Dr. Charles Rhodes of Cabarrus Family Medicine in Mount Pleasant, guiding him, Williams will know exactly what to expect when he enters family practice.

There are 2,800 family physicians in the state today with a projected need for 4,700 by 2020 – less than 10 years from now. At the current rate of medical students selecting family medicine as a field of practice, North Carolina will only meet 75% of the projected 2020 need.

Sometimes a brighter light reveals another picture. That’s the case for Williams and other medical students participating in the Family Medicine Interest and Scholars Program of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians (NCAFP) Foundation who, through mentoring relationships with practicing family physicians, are seeing the work firsthand. In its second year, the program supported by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, pairs physician mentors with North Carolina medical students for three consecutive years to strengthen skills, offer guidance and help fast-track their primary care training and experience.

This innovative program aims to increase the percentage of North Carolina-trained medical students who commit to a residency in family medicine by approximately 50 percent and to increase the percentage of those who elect to stay in the state for their residency training from 56 percent in 2008 to at least 75 percent over the length of the six-year program. Students in the first class of selected scholars are now mid-way through their third year of medical school, have already created bonds with their physician mentors, and are finding themselves welcomed to clinical rotations by returning patients who remember their names.

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