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1978-1979: The Program on Aging

Drs. Eva J. Salber and Harry T. Phillips.

UNC Geriatrics began in 1978 when an interdepartmental research group at UNC-Chapel Hill began the Study of Aging project. After the the study’s publication in 1979, the group received a a two-year National Institute on Aging grant to develop a geriatric curriculum. Dr. Harry T. Phillips was the project director.

In that same year, the School of Medicine established the Program on Aging (POA) headed by Dr. Paul Beck. This new entity laid the foundation for what would become the Division of Geriatric Medicine. As part-time director, Dr. Beck developed an interdisciplinary program in geriatric education in collaboration with other schools on campus.

The 1980s

In the early 1980s, a POA review showed the need for an expanded program with a full-time director. A national search led to the appointment of Dr. Mark Williams as director in 1987. He had previously been recruited in 1984 to the Department of Medicine as the first fellowship-trained geriatrician. When Dr. Williams took over as director, there were two faculty and one staff member.

The 1990s

By 1992, the POA had a faculty of nine, with two fellows and seven support staff. Program accomplishments included establishing a fully accredited geriatric medicine fellowship program, establishing and expanding the interdisciplinary geriatric evaluation clinic at UNC hospitals, and negotiating a contract with Carol Woods Retirement Community. Consequently, the POA had grown to include 13 faculty and 12 staff at its five-year review in 1997.

Carol Woods Health Center
Carol Woods Health Center

In 1994, the Division of General Medicine recruited Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead, a fellowship-trained geriatrician, from the Johns Hopkins Division of General Medicine and Gerontology. Upon arrival, she was appointed Medical Director of the Carol Woods Continuing Care Retirement Community. That same year, she founded and directed the UNC Continence Clinic.

In 1996, the Division of General Medicine named Dr. Busby-Whitehead the Coordinator of Geriatric Services. Subsequently, she became director of the POA’s geriatric subspecialty resident program in 1998. When Dr. Williams accepted a position at the University of Virginia in 1999, Dr. Busby-Whitehead became interim director of the POA. Also, the program received a three-year HRSA grant that led to the establishment of a geriatric education center, led by Dr. Busby-Whitehead and Rebecca Hunter, MEd.

The 2000s

In the year 2000, a John A. Hartford Foundation grant helped strengthen and expand the School of Medicine’s geriatrics curriculum. Also in 2000, Dr. Busby-Whitehead became full director of the POA and continued to champion geriatric issues.

Dr. Busby-Whitehead’s efforts ultimately led the School of Medicine to create the Division of Geriatric Medicine in 2003. Co-founding members of this new Division were Glenn Pickard, Axalla Hoole, Stephen Kizer, MD, Andrew Greganti, MD, Laura Hanson, MD, MPH, Holly Jean Coward, MD, Gary Winzelberg, MD, and Debra Bynum, MD. In addition, the Division recruited three more geriatricians to the faculty: Anthony Caprio, MD, Nurum Erdem, MD, MPH, and Racquel Daley-Placide, MD.

In 2005, UNC Geriatrics received its first Donald W. Reynolds Foundation Grant. As a result, UNC Geriatrics and the Office of Medical Education started an integrated geriatric curriculum in all four years for School of Medicine students. Since then, every School of Medicine medical student has received 34 hours of required geriatrics medical education. The same year, Ellen Roberts, PhD, MPH, was recruited as academic coordinator for geriatrics and as co-principal investigator and coordinator of the Donald W. Reynolds grant. Two years later, the School of Medicine elevated the Program on Aging to Center status as the UNC Center for Aging and Health (CAH) in 2007.

2010 – 2019

Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead
Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead

In 2010, Dr. Busby-Whitehead formed the first Geriatric Oncology Fellowship program alongside Dr. Hyman Muss (Mary Jones Hudson Distinguished Professor of Geriatric Oncology). In 2011, the Divisions of Geriatric Medicine and Nephrology formed the first Geriatric Nephrology fellowship. Then in 2012, Emergency Medicine and Geriatric Medicine formed the third Geriatric Emergency Medicine fellowship in the United States with Dr. Kevin Biese, MD, as Division Chief.

In 2015, UNC Geriatrics formed the first Hospice and Palliative Medicine fellowship. It represents an innovative educational approach that combines academic and community-based training. In addition, the Division formed the first Interprofessional Geriatrics fellowship in 2015.

UNC Hospital Hillsborough at twilight.
UNC Hospital Hillsborough

In 2016, the CAH was designated as an instructional center. Since its inception over 40 years ago as the Program for Aging, the CAH has trained hundreds of interprofessional students from various health science disciplines. Also in 2016, the Division moved all inpatient care from 8 Bedtower in Chapel Hill to UNC Hospital’s new service in Hillsborough.

In 2018, Hillsborough’s Emergency Department received the prestigious Silver Standard of accreditation for Geriatric Emergency Department excellence (the first and only hospital in North Carolina to earn this accreditation). Furthermore, a 2018 Duke Endowment Award to pilot a dementia-friendly hospital initiative helped establish and embed a dementia-friendly care structure in Hillsborough.

In 2019, the Center for Aging and Health partnered with the Division of Hematology and Oncology (now the Division of Oncology) and the Lineberger Cancer Center to successfully apply for a National Cancer Institute-funded T32 Geriatric Oncology Training Program. Dr. Busby-Whitehead leads the program along with Dr Hyman Muss (Oncology) as MPIs. In addition, Dr. Busby-Whitehead has been an appointed member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging (GAC) since 2019.

2020 – Present

In 2020, UNC Geriatrics clinic received its fifth consecutive Carolina Care Excellence Award recipient for patient care (the only UNC Health primary care clinic to receive this award that year). Also, in 2021, the clinic moved to a new location in the newly-built UNC Eastowne Medical Office Building.

Also in 2021, the CAH entered into a new partnership with Duke Medicine to establish the NIA-funded Duke-UNC ADRC (Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center). This new center brings together leading investigators from two major research institutions to study Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. Specifically, one key program component of the ADRC is the Research Education Training Core (REC) which is co-led by Dr. Busby-Whitehead.

Continued Expansion and Growth

Currently, Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead leads UNC Geriatrics as both the Director of the Center for Aging and Health (CAH) and Chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine. Under her leadership, UNC Geriatrics continues expanding its research to align with emerging interests in aging-related research and strategic initiatives across campus. Since its founding in 2003, the Division of Geriatric medicine has grown to include 16 board certified geriatricians, two full-time PhD faculty members, and 10 adjunct faculty.

In terms of research funding and support, UNC Geriatrics actively promotes the CAH’s growth. In addition, the CAH develops pipelines and opportunities that support junior, mid-career, and senior investigators across the translational spectrum. What’s more, the CAH advances global outreach through eight online courses which have reached interprofessional healthcare providers in 26 countries. Additionally, CAH faculty and staff collaborate on aging-related projects with researchers in places like Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Belgium, and Ireland. Also, the CAH’s continuing education programs reach over 212,000 health care providers each year through NC AHECs (Area Health Education Centers).