The Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) is celebrating forty years as a medical training center in western North Carolina. With a mission to provide quality healthcare as the foundation for training physicians, dentists, pharmacists and health professionals, one of MAHEC’s greatest contributions to WNC are the graduates who stayed in the region to become family doctors, obstetricians and dentists.
“In four decades we have graduated 436 physicians who are leaders in primary, ob/gyn and dental care,” said Dr. Jeffery E. Heck, President and CEO of MAHEC. “Our faculty instill not only a passion for learning and medical excellence, but a love for the mountains and the people who live here. We are particularly proud of our graduates who practice medicine right here in WNC.”
MAHEC was incorporated in 1974 to help meet the need for physicians in rural areas of the State. Graduates from rural residency programs are three times more likely to practice in rural areas than urban residency program graduates. In the 1970s the North Carolina General Assembly mandated the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine to increase their student body by fifty percent and 300 new primary care training positions were added in a statewide “campus without walls.” The Mountain Area Health Education Center was established with a family medicine residency program to serve a 16 county region in WNC.
Dr. James McMillan came to Asheville as a resident in those early years. “It was a frontier back then,” he says. “You’ve got to keep in mind that when I started primary care, preventative healthcare was unknown.”
MAHEC was at the forefront of a burgeoning movement toward primary care, and Dr. McMillan says the Asheville community embraced MAHEC, its first wave of residents, and this new
approach. “The community support was just overwhelming with how much the physicians and the hospitals and the nurses were just really happy to have us there.”
Dr. McMillan joined Asheville Family Health Centers which employs ten MAHEC graduates and has become the largest independent, physician owned family medicine practice in the state. The Hot Springs Health Program has seven MAHEC graduates, Mission Medical Associates employs more than 20 MAHEC graduates, and throughout WNC favorite family medicine and obgyn doctors herald from MAHEC.
MAHEC trained obstetricians now serve in Buncombe, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Swain and Transylvania counties. The Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency program was added in 1992 to meet women’s health needs, followed by a rural family medicine residency in Hendersonville, a geriatrics fellowship, dental residency, hospice and palliative care fellowship, and a sports medicine fellowship will begin in summer 2015.
The combined impact and strength of MAHEC’s medical education and training programs has improved quality access to healthcare and changed the supply of physicians in our region.
“As faculty at MAHEC we are very committed to the highest quality healthcare, to helping the underserved, and to teaching residents and students,” says Dr. Blake Fagan, MAHEC’s Family Medicine Residency Program Director. “Our residents understand the mission to serve and, as graduates, they are living it in the region.”
In addition to residency training programs, MAHEC helped establish the Asheville campuses of the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Over 600 local physicians serve as faculty or mentors for the next generation of health professionals. MAHEC coordinates this faculty network to provide residency and medical student training, medical mentoring for high school students, internships for undergraduates, The Kenan Primary Care Scholars program for UNC Chapel Hill medical students, and almost 200 medical rotations for other medical students.
“Access to high quality healthcare is one of the most significant challenges for rural communities and MAHEC is important to the future of WNC,” says Dr. Geoff Jones, Director of MAHEC’s Hendersonville Family Medicine Residency program, “Rural health training programs will play a key role in supplying the rural workforce of the future.”
MAHEC will celebrate its 40th year anniversary on Saturday, September 13th on the Mary C. Nesbitt Biltmore Campus. Tickets and information available at 828-771-4203 or Mahec40years@mahec.net.
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