North Carolina AHEC Program
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Director's Message

Tom BaconWhen the North Carolina AHEC Program was founded over 40 years ago, one of the driving forces for a program of this type was the shortages of primary care doctors in rural communities in the state. Beginning in the 1960s, health care leaders in North Carolina began observing that as general practitioners retired in many of the small towns throughout the state, they were not being replaced by young physicians who were willing to settle in these communities and care for the families living there.

The premise behind the primary care residencies based at the AHEC Centers has always been that family physicians, general internists, pediatricians, and obstetrician-gynecologists who are trained in regionally-based AHEC Centers are much more likely to remain in North Carolina and to settle in communities close to where they did residency training. After tracking graduates of the AHEC Primary Care Residency Programs for the past 40 years, the evidence is clear that physicians trained in an AHEC are much more likely to both remain in North Carolina and to settle in an underserved community.

AHEC residencies have graduated nearly 3,500 physicians since 1978. Of these, 53 percent of primary care residents who trained at an AHEC site remain in practice in North Carolina today. The comparable number for primary care residency graduates from non-AHEC residencies is 32 percent. In family medicine, 58 percent of those who completed an AHEC residency remain in North Carolina, compared to 38 percent of those who did a non-AHEC residency.

An article in this issue of the AHEC Review describes the work of some of the graduates of the family medicine program at the Mountain AHEC. Their stories are similar to those of graduates of our other AHEC residency programs and demonstrate the important role that these AHEC residencies play in providing highly competent and compassionate physicians to serve the needs of the communities of North Carolina. As the population of North Carolina continues to grow, and the number of medical school graduates continues to rise in the state, it will be important for the state to invest in the expansion of AHEC residencies if we are going to continue to meet the health care needs of the communities of the state.

Thomas J. Bacon, DrPH
Director, North Carolina AHEC Program