Health & Family

Novant Health to launch area’s 3rd family medicine residency program

Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center will be the base for the system’s family medicine residency program, starting in July 2016.
Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center will be the base for the system’s family medicine residency program, starting in July 2016.

Novant Health will launch its first family medicine residency program – the third in the Charlotte region – next summer when six medical school graduates begin training at Huntersville Medical Center and in a Cornelius family practice.

Hospital officials are interviewing applicants now, and the first residents will start July 1. When the three-year program is full, it will have 18 residents.

First-year residents will spend most of their time in the Huntersville hospital but will also rotate through Presbyterian Medical Center to get experience with inpatient pediatrics, neonatal intensive care, obstetrics and emergency medicine, said Dr. Mark Higdon, Novant Health’s residency program director.

Outside the hospital, residents will work alongside four experienced faculty physicians, including Higdon, in a clinic adjacent to Lakeside Family Physicians in Cornelius. By the time they reach their third year, residents will be seeing patients in the clinic four or five days a week.

“Our goal is to completely immerse them with physicians who have been doing the work for a long time,” said Dr. David Cook, a Novant Health senior vice president and adviser to the residency program.

The Novant Health program has received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and the American Osteopathic Association, Higdon said.

Doctor shortage looming

Higdon said the new residency program will help alleviate the looming shortage of family doctors both in North Carolina and across the nation.

He cited a report from the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care in Washington. It says North Carolina will require an additional 1,885 primary care physicians by 2030, a 31 percent increase. Demand will grow as the population increases and ages, and as more people obtain and use health insurance, the report said.

Of doctors trained today, Higdon said 70 percent become specialists and 30 percent become primary care doctors. “That needs to be reversed,” he said. “If we need to produce anything, it’s family physicians.”

Charlotte is the largest city in the country that doesn’t have a four-year medical school. But Carolinas HealthCare System has run a medical residency program at Carolinas Medical Center since the 1940s. Today, it trains about 300 residents and fellows in more than 30 specialty areas. Carolinas HealthCare owns NorthEast hospital in Concord, which also runs a family medicine residency program. Since 2010, CMC has also trained third- and fourth-year medical students as a branch campus of the UNC-Chapel Hill medical school.

Earlier this year, Pittsburgh health care consultant Tripp Umbach produced a feasibility study for Charlotte leaders on how to develop a four-year medical school. Among its findings: Doctors are most likely to practice in the area where they complete their residency training.

Dr. Mary Hall, chief academic officer for Carolinas HealthCare, welcomed the news that Novant Health is adding a residency program because she said it will “add needed slots for this critically important community need.”

“With the population in the Greater Charlotte area continuing to grow at record levels, the demand for primary care physicians will also continue to grow,” Hall said. “…Today only one-third of all physicians are in primary care when actually the need is closer to one-half.”