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The UNC School of Medicine is pleased to announce the acceptance of the fourth class of the Fully Integrated Readiness for Service Training (FIRST) Program. Medical students Alex Gregor, Lucas John, Kate Miller, and Michael Steinbacher have been accepted into this accelerated medical curriculum. These students were selected based on their commitment to Family Medicine and service to vulnerable populations, academic record, leadership qualities, and potential for success in serving the residents of North Carolina. FIRST was established through a grant provided by The Duke Endowment in 2015, and with additional funding provided in 2018 by the Fullerton Foundation, expanded to include the Asheville campus.  This year, it will expand yet again to include the Charlotte campus. Through the support of the Department of Family Medicine, School of Medicine, and Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), and Atrium Health, the FIRST program will send FIRST Scholars to Asheville and Charlotte for portions of their medical training and early integration into clinical settings.

The Director of the FIRST Program, Dr. Catherine Coe noted, “Expansion of the FIRST Program to the branch campuses is aligned with UNC’s mission to care for the people of North Carolina. The FIRST trainees are committed to caring for the underserved and will help provide the primary care workforce our state needs.”

The FIRST Program provides participants the opportunity to complete their MD in three years and, subject to academic and performance standards, includes a conditional acceptance into a Family Medicine Residency program in North Carolina. Following training, scholars will take part in three years of service in a rural and/or underserved area of North Carolina. They will receive ongoing support from UNC Department of Family Medicine in partnership with the NC Office of Rural Health and Community Care, AHEC, Piedmont Health Services, and the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians.

One of the unique qualities of the FIRST curriculum is the early integration of students into the clinical setting. Students work closely with a family physician while completing their coursework for real-time application of new knowledge.  Other schools across the nation have used accelerated tracks to help address their states’ workforce needs, but none have included the full pipeline from medical school, to residency, to primary care service to the underserved.

FIRST is one of a kind, showing great commitment from UNC and affiliated partners to make a difference in the health of North Carolinians who need access to well-trained primary care doctors.  These latest scholars will complete their medical school training in May 2021, enter residency, and begin practicing medicine in an underserved NC community as early as 2024.

FIRST Program Scholars:

  Alex Gregor was born in Petersburg, Virginia but grew up in the mountains of North Carolina.  After graduating Cum Laude in Anthropology from Davidson College, he completed a post-baccalaureate program at the University of Virginia.   Alex aspires to address health needs holistically in North Carolina, as well as through humanitarian outreach to other countries.


Kate Miller is from nearby Pittsboro, NC.  She studied aquatic biology in Santa Barbara, California before returning to her home state to pursue medicine.  Kate worked as a Care Assistant prior to medical school and helped patients navigate the healthcare system, coordinated their appointments, as well as addressed some of the patients’ socioeconomic issues by connecting them to community resources.  Kate has her Purple Belt in Lean Six Sigma and has participated in process improvement projects to  streamline medical documentation.


Michael Steinbacher was born in Seattle but grew up in Concord, NC near Charlotte.  He studied German Literature in addition to Biology and Chemistry as an undergraduate student at UNC and was Phi Beta Kappa and Pogue Scholar.  Michael went on a medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic as a high school student which was a catalyst for his passion for serving vulnerable populations and improving access to care.

Lucas John is originally from Marietta, Georgia but has come to call North Carolina home.  He attended UNC Chapel Hill for his undergraduate degree in Psychology and plans to integrate mental health into his primary care practice.  Lucas was Phi Beta Kappa and 2-time recipient of the Delta Upsilon Gray Circle of Excellence Scholarship.  He is fluent in Spanish and looks forward to serving Spanish-speaking communities as a primary care physician.

For more information about the FIRST program, please contact Dawn Morriston or visit the website here.