Campbell University’s new medical school, in neighboring Harnett County, began its first classes earlier this month, and that should help Johnston County residents in the years to come.
The new medical school’s mission is to provide doctors for rural and underserved populations in North Carolina.
And Johnston County qualifies, said Marilyn Pearson, director of the county’s public health department. In 2011, Johnston had 7.4 doctors for every 10,000 people. The national average is 24.2 physicians per 10,000 people, according to data from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
“That will be something I think that will help not just our county but surrounding counties and other areas in North Carolina,” Pearson said.
Campbell University already partners with Johnston County to provide clinical training for students in its physician assistant program, Pearson said. The county will be talking with Campbell about offering residencies for its medical school students, she said.
For Dr. John Kauffman, dean of the Campbell medical school, the first day of classes was like watching his child take his first steps, he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, really, to be involved in the birth of a new school, and we couldn’t be happier or prouder or more excited,” he said.
Campbell’s medical school is the fifth in the state, Kauffman said, and the only one located in a rural, underserved area. The others are at Duke University in Durham, UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem and East Carolina University in Greenville.
“We think that’s significant because we want students that can move to a community like Buies Creek and it be in their comfort zone,” he said.
The hope is that students who have roots in a smaller community will choose to settle in one. Kauffman said he expects half of the school’s graduates to stay in the area.
Dr. P.K. Vyas, who founded Eastern Carolina Medical Center in Benson, said Campbell’s medical school will help recruit more primary-care doctors to the area. “I’ve been trying to find doctors for our office, and for nine months, I haven’t had any luck finding any physicians,” he said.
Vyas has established a $1 million challenge fund to benefit the medical school. He will match any gift made to the medical school dollar for dollar, up to $1 million, before Sept. 19.
Vyas said it is hard to recruit primary-care doctors because most specialize in a particular area of medicine, and those who don’t usually end up on hospital staffs. He said doctors choose hospitals, rather than smaller practices in rural areas, because they don’t have to worry about administrative issues, such as collecting payments from patients.
“Opening up a medical school like this is definitely going to help rural areas to be able to recruit more primary-care doctors,” he said.
In 2007, the N.C. Institute of Medicine issued a white paper saying North Carolina needed to build a new medical school, Kauffman said. This helped make the case for starting Campbell’s.
Campbell’s medical school is an osteopathic medical school, meaning doctors graduate with a DO rather than an MD. Graduates from an osteopathic school have the same qualifications as MDs but have additional training in musculoskeletal medicine, Kauffman said.