Niblock earns prestigious Pisacano Scholarship

Niblock, a 4th year medical student mentored by UNC Family Medicine faculty, earns prestigious Pisacano Scholarship

No matter where Franklin Niblock went in his hometown of Concord, N.C., he always seemed to find a story about his grandfather, who was pediatrician and community leader.

“It seemed like everyone I met was at some point a patient of my grandfather,” Niblock said. “He clearly made an impact on his patients, but it wasn’t always within the walls of the clinic. People were just as likely to praise his work with the health department or with city council, as his bedside manner.”

This is the sort of doctor Niblock wants to be. His work in the areas of primary care and family medicine has earned him several awards, most recently the Pisacano Scholarship, a prestigious award for future leaders in the field of family medicine. Niblock is one of only six U.S. medical students to receive the scholarship, valued at $28,000. The field of applicants was more than 2,500.

According to the Pisacano Leadership Foundation, recipients exhibit “demonstrable leadership skills, superior academic achievement, strong communication skills, identifiable character and integrity, and a noteworthy level of community service.”

Niblock is the third UNC School of Medicine student to receive the Pisacano Scholarship since it launched in 1993.

Through his grandfather’s example, Niblock learned how to serve people, rather than just treat patients.

This lesson from his grandfather has shaped both his education as well as his pursuits outside the classroom.

As an undergraduate at UNC studying public health, he worked with the UNC Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter, leading fundraising efforts, recruiting volunteers, and managing community partnerships.

“I was fortunate enough to learn early that I felt most fulfilled when serving others and filling a need,” said Franklin. 

Before enrolling at the UNC School of Medicine, Niblock worked with the North Carolina Office of Rural Health while it implemented a direct primary care payment system at rural health clinics across the state.

His experience at the Office of Rural Health made clear to Niblock that the state had a pressing need for increased primary care infrastructure, and only emphasized the career path he hoped to pursue at the School of Medicine.

“I saw the impact a family physician can have in a rural community,” Niblock said of his year with the Office of Rural Health. “And I also built impactful relationships with mentors in rural primary care from across the state.”

When he began medical school, Niblock's coursework was supplemented by his experiences with Habitat for Humanity and the Office of Rural Health.

After his third year in med school, he spent a year acquiring his masters in public health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health as a way to better understand different populations and care for them better.

“The need for family medicine is now greater than ever,” Niblock said. “To meet the health needs of our country, we must train at least 1,000 primary care physicians per year. Furthermore, the shifting focus on value-based care will increase the need for primary care physicians, specifically those with skills in managing the health of populations.”

To meet these emerging needs, Niblock is working to build a more robust primary care workforce pipeline as a way to encourage more students and physicians to work with vulnerable and underserved populations across the state.

As part of these efforts, Niblock was a founding member of MedServe, a student-run not-for-profit exposing recent college graduates to primary care medicine in rural and underserved North Carolina.

Last year, he was inducted into the Eugene S. Mayer Community Service Honor Society for his involvement with MedServe.

As a Primary Care and Population Health Scholar, Niblock has pursued projects in public health, and has been mentored by UNC Family Medicine faculty Anne Mounsey, MD and Katrina Donahue, MD, MPH.

His mentors are thrilled by his success.

“Family Medicine needs leaders like Franklin,” said Donahue, director of research in the department of family medicine. “Not only is he dedicated to population health and rural care, he is a talented young researcher. He will be the kind of well-rounded physician able to make big changes happen in primary care.”  

This past summer, Niblock worked with Donahue on the MONITOR Trial, a state-wide research study examining self-monitoring of blood glucose in non-insulin treated type II diabetes patients. Niblock conducted a secondary analysis focusing on the use of mobile health technology in the management of chronic disease, and presented his work at the North American Primary Care Research Group (NAPCRG) conference last spring.

At UNC he has found a supportive environment.

“The support for primary care at UNC is built into the mission,” Niblock said. “But it’s furthered by the actions of residents and faculty. For someone interested in family medicine, that has been incredibly fortuitous.”

As Niblock heads into his fourth year of medical school, he looks forward to spending more of his time training with family physicians – and, beyond that, his future practice.

“Family medicine offers me a career where I can care for my patients personally and locally while being equipped to advocate for them in a broader context,” he said. “I can continue to work on issues I’m passionate about, such as access to health care, housing, and education, that will ultimately improve the health of the patients I serve.”

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