Health & Fitness

Lindsey Shapiro, D.O., Jeb Fox, M.D., Erinn Murphy, D.O., John Cunningham, M.D.

MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program Comes to the High Country

By Koren Gillespie

In an ongoing effort to improve access to care, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) recently partnered with Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) to establish MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program. For medical students specializing in primary care, Boone is now an option to complete their three-year residency program.

A highly competitive recruitment process began last fall; the inaugural class allowed for only four spots. Recruits were chosen from a pool of 961 initial applicants, which was then narrowed down to 60 interviews. Next, ARHS submitted their preference list to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), which matched them with John Cunningham, M.D., Jeb Fox, M.D., Erinn Murphy, D.O., and Lindsey Shapiro, D.O., who are now the Boone program’s class of 2023 resident doctors. 

“Once the residents moved to Boone, they were no longer medical students; they became doctors,” says Dr. Molly Benedum, M.D., Director of MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program. “Our area is a great place for residency training. They will experience the full scope of what a family doctor provides to patients—from a clinic to hospital setting. Residents will see a full age range and diversity of patients in need of primary care, and they will form deep connections with their patients over time,” adds Dr. Benedum.

Rural family medicine requires a different skill set than is needed in more urban areas. With limited access to specialty providers, primary care doctors wear a lot of different hats. They work in pediatrics and women’s health as well as with seniors and the general population. This variety of patients requires them to be flexible, adaptable, and knowledgeable about available community resources. A well-trained family doctor can treat and manage a gamut of healthcare needs. Patients with chronic illnesses will save time and money if they choose to see their family doctor for this type of care. For example, the Boone area does not have any endocrinologists, but patients can often see their primary care physician to manage their diabetes. Additionally, family doctors oversee a wide variety of healthcare needs including high blood pressure, substance use disorders, arthritis and joint pain, minor sprains, injuries, and much more. They also play a critical role in prevention through check-ups and screenings.   

Dr. Benedum continues, “We want to instill in our residents the same values that align with MAHEC’s mission, which include going into a community and meeting its unique needs. We want them to gain confidence and versatility so that they are able to go into any rural area, see a need, and be able to step into that space and meet the community’s needs due to their broad training skill sets.”

Because of the wide-ranging nature of family medicine, residents are based out of Watauga Medical Center, but also work out of AppFamily Medicine’s clinic. They train and provide continuity of care for patients in many settings. From delivering a baby, to providing care for a stroke victim, as well as other hospitalized patients, residents will work in most every department. Along with Dr. Benedum, local physicians Charles Baker, M.D., David Brendle, D.O., Chris Bullers, M.D., Daniel Goble, M.D., Lisa Kaufmann, M.D., and Kyle Wilson, M.D. serve as faculty-level mentors to the resident doctors.

“Each of our four residents wanted to practice in Boone for different reasons. One grew up in the Bethel community and wanted to practice in his hometown. Another went to Appalachian State, fell in love with Boone, and she wanted to come back. They are all excited to be a part of a new program,” says Dr. Benedum. “These residents have already received a tremendous amount of support from the hospital and community. We want to be innovative in designing the best educational experience possible, and our residents will have input in this process. I personally think the program is a huge win for Boone. In the long-term, we hope residents will want to stay here to practice and improve access to care. We need more doctors in the area. For the short-term, our hospital is becoming more of ahttp://mahec.net teaching hospital, which elevates the level of care patients receive,” concludes Dr. Benedum.

As the inaugural class settles into their first autumn working in Boone, Dr. Benedum and peers will once again begin the recruitment process for the next group of residents. Over the next few years, they hope to grow the program from four to six spots annually. They also foresee the residents working out of Cannon Memorial Hospital in addition to Watauga Medical Center. Collaborative meetings have taken place with Appalachian State University’s Health Sciences Department to expand research, teaching, and lab opportunities for the program. As a part of MAHEC, the program currently has partnerships through UNC Chapel Hill’s Health Sciences Department. MAHEC was established in 1974 to improve training and retention of healthcare professionals in western North Carolina. In addition to the Boone program, MAHEC offers family residencies in Asheville and Hendersonville. For more information, visit mahec.net.

Return to Featured Content on the Home Page >>