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Following a Passion for Whole-Person Care
A UNC Asheville campus medical student never strays far from her purpose

When Charlottesville-native Katie Leiner headed to North Carolina for college, she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to study. But she was curious about the human condition and what contributed to making it better. This curiosity led her to take courses in psychology, sociology, chemistry, and political science at Davidson College.

A study abroad experience in Denmark sparked her interest in addiction, a field that drew from many of the approaches she had studied and informed her growing understanding of the opioid crisis back home.

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Healthy Competition
CHPE Student Spotlight: NC AHEC Scholar Gillian Oyos

Gillian Oyos was an anxious kid growing up in the small town of Abingdon, Virginia. She discovered that playing sports, especially soccer, was a way to relieve her anxiety. However, as she got older and the stakes got higher, she realized that soccer was no longer helping her with her anxiety but making it worse.

“As sports start to become more competitive there’s a certain level of anxiety that comes along with it,” Gillian shared. “That’s one of the biggest reasons why sports psychology is such a passion of mine. I want to help people harness the power of sports to decrease anxiety but also help those that are suffering from anxiety because of their sport.”

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Improving Nutrition, Improving Lives
CHPE Student Spotlight: Dietetics Intern Shawnda Martin

As a former high school and college athlete, Shawnda Martin learned from a young age the power of nutrition and the effects it can have on your body. She was also interested in learning how nutrition helps prevent many chronic diseases, several of which run in her family. It’s not surprising that when it came time for Shawnda to choose an undergraduate major at Western Carolina University, she chose nutrition and dietetics.

Now Shawnda is pursuing her master’s degree through a combined dietetic internship and master’s program at WCU. “I’ve always had a passion for health and fitness, and I’ve always wanted to do something that allows me to help other people,” Shawnda explained.

Shawnda certainly picked the right career. As a registered dietitian, she will have the opportunity to equip providers with the knowledge and resources needed to engage patients in conversations about lifestyle interventions for disease prevention and management.

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The Business of Prevention
CHPE Student Spotlight: WCU MSW Intern Laura Martin

Laura Martin has enjoyed her career working in infant and early childhood mental health. For the last 15 years she’s been the director of child development at Verner Center for Early Learning, but, a few years ago, Laura started grappling with the idea of going back to school. Ultimately, working alongside people with master’s degrees and PHDs inspired her to take the leap. Now in her late 40s, Laura’s finishing up her master's degree in social work at Western Carolina University.

Laura first started working with young children because she saw a potential for positive change. Providing mental healthcare for children at the beginning stages of their development can set off a ripple effect that changes lives and communities.

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Hallum Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Congratulations to Jacquelyn Hallum, MBA, MHA, director of Health Careers and Diversity Education, who was honored yesterday with the Suzanne DeFerie Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s annual WomanUP Celebration hosted by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce. 

The lifetime achievement award recognizes WNC women who have excelled in their careers, fostered the growth and development of other women, and improved our community by sharing their time and talents. Those who have had the pleasure of working alongside Jacquelyn here at MAHEC over the past 27 years know that she meets all of these criteria and more. [continue reading]

Celebrating the Spirit of MLK and Those Who Embody It

Earlier this month, MAHEC celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those who were able to attend the online celebration were treated to highlights of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, inspirational music, and a moving poem by our national youth poet laureate. This year’s keynote speaker, Terrell Morton, PhD, challenged participants to be accountable for ensuring all Americans have access to the freedoms, protections, and opportunities promised in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

A much-anticipated centerpiece of this annual celebration was the recognition of the many leaders from across MAHEC who exemplify Dr. King’s spirit. [continue reading]

Working Towards a Solution
CHPE Student Spotlight: WCU Behavioral Health Intern Mary Lewe

When Mary Lewe was deciding what career path to follow, the one thing she knew for sure was that she wanted to have a direct impact on people’s lives. After she took a counseling theories and practices course as an undergrad, she decided counseling was the right fit for her. She had enjoyed interviewing people one-on-one when she wrote for her college newspaper. Plus, she knew from personal experience the positive impact counseling can have on a person’s life, having received it herself. [continue reading]

Back Where She Started
Staff Spotlight: Symone Simmons

Symone Simmons was recently hired as a residency program coordinator, but she’s been a part of the MAHEC team since she was in high school. Her first experience with MAHEC was a little less than ten years ago when she was a member of the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA).

As part of her CAYLA experience, Symone had to complete a summer internship, which she did at MAHEC with Jacquelyn Hallum. The next summer she got another internship with Jacquelyn, and that’s when she learned about the Minority Medical Mentoring Program (MMMP) and decided to apply. [continue reading]

A Home Away From Home
CHPE Student Spotlight: MMMP Intern Maria Melchor Guerrero

Maria Melchor Guerrero practically grew up in a hospital. Her older brother has hemophilia. When he was younger their parents would take him to the hospital whenever he got hurt. Sometimes he would stay in the hospital for weeks or months at a time. Once he was hospitalized for nearly a year.

"The hospital was my home away from home. I was there so often that all of the medical staff knew me,” Maria shared. “They not only treated my brother well, they also looked after my parents and me. That inspired me to do the same, to become a doctor and to give that compassion back to others." [continue reading]

MAHEC’s MMMP Exceeds Expectations
CHPE Student Profile: MMMP Intern and AHEC Scholar Naomi Llamas

Naomi Llamas spent her entire high school career anxiously awaiting the day when she would be a senior and could apply to be in MAHEC’s Minority Medical Mentoring Program (MMMP). She had spotted a flyer for MMMP on a tour of high school when she was in eighth grade and instantly knew she wanted to be a part of it. From that day forward, Naomi never lost sight of her goal of becoming an MMMP intern.

Once Naomi finally reached her senior year, she applied and was accepted. The program lived up to all those expectations and then some. “With MMMP, I got a lot more experience than I thought I would,” Naomi shared. “I got trained to become a doula, which I thought was pretty cool. They also offered a medical interpreting class, which was very helpful. I’m honestly blessed to have this experience.” [continue reading]

For Nielson, the Third Time’s a Charm!
Staff Spotlight: Cathy Nielson

MAHEC is saying goodbye to long-time friend and special project super star Cathy Nielson, MPH, who is retiring for the third and, she swears, last time. In 2007, Cathy ended her long career as an occupational therapist at UNC Chapel Hill. Her second retirement was from Mountain BizWorks where she spent several years helping local entrepreneurs and communities thrive.

In 2014, Steve Crane, MD, coaxed Cathy out of a brief second retirement to help him with the development of a patient-centered EHR under an AHEC Innovations grant. Since then, Cathy’s public health, planning, and grant writing skills have made her an invaluable contributor to many initiatives here at MAHEC including Caring 4 You, a mobile care management and primary care services program for high-risk patients; MAHEC’s IDD adult primary care clinic; and home-based primary care.

“Cathy has played a quiet but critical role in helping MAHEC care for vulnerable populations,” Dr. Crane shares. “She’s mentored numerous students and young faculty in how to provide person-centered care by focusing on patients’ goals.” [continue reading]

Beginning at the End
Spotlight on Dr. Stephanie Call, Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at MAHEC

Dr. Stephanie Call dreamed of moving to Western North Carolina, but there was one problem: she wasn’t ready to give up the job she loved. Dr. Call was the program director for internal medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, where she had worked for the past 17 years. She was not daunted by this challenge, however; in fact, her love of problem solving was what drew her to internal medicine in the first place.

“Internal medicine is such a great field for thinking intellectually,” Dr. Call explained. “There’s complex physiology and science, but you also have to learn about the patients’ interests, beliefs, and values, and then you try to fit it all together.” [continue reading]

Exploring a Career in Healthcare at the Simulation Center
CHPE Student Profile – Summer Intern Kory Price

"For his summer internship, Kory worked at MAHEC’s Simulation Center in order to explore his interest in the healthcare field. In addition to helping set up and clean up, Kory was able to sit in on simulations for a variety of medical situations, from routine healthcare procedures to trauma and serious injuries. His most memorable experience was watching a simulation of a C-section. “It was pretty graphic. There was a lot of fake blood,” Kory said." [continue reading]

Faculty Spotlight
UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy Alum Irene Ulrich, Pharm. D, BCACP

"My career path is unique is because I started pharmacy school with no intentions of pursuing residency. I felt sure that I would go into community pharmacy and was comfortable with that. However, as I learned more about clinical pharmacy, I began to consider pursuing community pharmacy residency. It was not until I completed by ambulatory care rotation during my fourth year of pharmacy school that it became clear to me that was the path I wanted to take. I decided in the fall of my PY4 year to pursue ambulatory care PGY1 residencies. I was very fortunate to match with Mission/MAHEC in 2012, and ultimately was able to stay on at MAHEC." [continue reading]

Putting a Dent in the Problem
CHPE Student Spotlight: Kamal Sharpe

“I don’t think it’s fair for people to have to put food over an education or food over getting medical treatment,” Kamal said. “I’ve seen that growing up a lot. I don’t necessarily think I can do something by myself to help solve those issues, but I might be able to put the smallest dent in the problem. That’s my main goal.”

When asked if he’s hopeful that one day health inequality will be solved, Kamal says he can feel both hopeful and discouraged, sometimes cycling through both emotions in the same day. “I know there’s been so much progress and change, especially within the past five years,” Kamal said. “I don’t know what the next five years will look like, but I’m hopeful that it will be more change than has happened in the past.” [continue reading]

Serving the Community
CHPE Student Spotlight: AHEC Scholar Carlos Pena Magos

With the support of scholarships, Carlos was able to attend Western Carolina University, where he’s now a senior majoring in emergency medical care. Next, he wants to go to medical school and eventually return to his hometown of Hickory, NC, to open a clinic, and help those that need it the most while giving back to the community that raised him.

“Lately I’ve been observing how expensive it is to get healthcare,” Carlos said. “With my clinic, I really want to focus on long-term benefits. I want to be able to educate patients and give them routine service at an affordable price. So that even if you have economic issues, there’s always an opportunity to get help, something that is not offered as much in my community.” [continue reading]

Community Partner Spotlight – Kathey Avery, BSN

Throughout the pandemic, Kathey has continued knocking on doors herself, visiting more than 600 homes in historically Black and brown neighborhoods to listen to concerns and provide COVID education, prevention supplies, and vaccine information. Residents welcome these house calls from a familiar and trusted neighbor, and she welcomes the opportunity to connect them with the resources they need to stay healthy. Not surprisingly, one thing they need is more health advocates like Kathey, who was recently given the Trailblazer Award by the Land of Sky Regional Council for her tireless commitment to promoting health equity for all including those living with dementia. [continue reading]

The Flavors of Healthcare
CHPE Student Spotlight: AHEC Scholar Michelle Angeles

Michelle Angeles grew up in Hendersonville, NC, but she’s not a stranger to the rural parts of Western North Carolina, where some of her family lives. In fact, her knowledge of rural medicine and the lack of access to healthcare in some areas, has her considering a career as a rural primary care physician.

While she’s still deciding on exactly what kind of career she wants to have, Michelle is getting a taste of all her options through the AHEC Scholars program at MAHEC.

“It’s a really good opportunity to look at all the different pieces that come together in healthcare and see all the different positions and how they work together for the same purpose, for helping this one patient,” said Michelle. “MAHEC and the AHEC Scholar programs are really good at giving you direction by giving you a lot of exposure to different fields, so it gives you a sense of what each of the flavors are.” [continue reading]

Experience helps student connect the dots and find her calling
CHPE Student Profile: AHEC Scholar Skyler Chillson

Before Skyler Chillson knew she wanted to become an occupational therapist, she had several different career ambitions. At first, when she was little, she had dreams of becoming an artist or interior designer. Then, when she was a little bit older, she wanted to be a veterinarian. In high school, she thought about going into criminal justice. It wasn’t until college that she discovered a passion for healthcare.

“Being able to spend a full day, or days, shadowing a medical doctor, a physician assistant, or whoever you choose is really interesting,” Skyler said. “It was enlightening to just immerse myself in that culture for a couple of days.” Skyler finally landed on occupational therapy, and, in the end, it was her grandfather’s miraculous recovery that inspired her. A few years ago, Skyler’s grandfather had a stroke and lost most of his motor functions. Two years later, he had recovered so much that people were traveling across the country for the chance to work with him and see his progress up close. [continue reading]

Worth the Wait: A MAHEC RN's Long Journey to Reach Her Goals
Latosha Plummer, RN

For Latosha Plummer, RN, 2020 was the year her father was sick with COVID-19 and spent 45 days in the ICU. But 2020 was also the year Latosha achieved her life-long goal of graduating from nursing school, and 2021 is the year she officially became a Registered Nurse.

"I had to overcome a lot in these last two years," Latosha shared. "God was a big part of getting me through it. Talking to God and praying 'Is this what I'm supposed to do?' But I felt like I was put in that place for a reason. Everything happened for a reason. While I was learning to think like a nurse, I was also learning how to help my mom make decisions for my dad. It was hard." [continue reading]

From Patient to Physician
CHPE Student Profile: AHEC Scholar Devan Woody

“My kidneys will likely fail by age 60 to 65, and I will have to be put on dialysis and then eventually need a transplant,” Devan explains. “It’s a genetic disease, and my sister and I both had a 50/50 shot of getting it. We both drew the short stick.”

However, all of the time he spent as a patient did lead to something positive: he decided to become a physician. Now a pre-med biology major in his senior year at Western Carolina University, he’s working towards getting into medical school. His ultimate goal is to become a nephrologist who specializes in diseases of the kidneys including PKD. [continue reading]

All Things are Possible With a Little Magic
Community Spotlight: Ricky Boone, local magician

When Dr. Keller created a special device to help her patient use his new dentures, he told her it was magic. He should know. Now in his early 60s, Ricky Boone has been a professional magician most of his life. He also owns one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar magic shops in the United States, Magic Central in North Asheville.

“Who else would take the time to figure out how to help me?” Ricky shared. ”My new mouth full of teeth is amazing!” [continue reading]

MAHEC Resident Alumni Spotlight
Christine Posner, MD, Buncombe County Health Department

Christine Posner was a MAHEC family medicine resident from 2001-04, followed by a fourth-year community medicine fellowship in which she divided her time between primary care at the local health department, working with the newly formed sports medicine fellowship, consulting at the MAHEC Family Health Center, and serving as an attending on the Family Practice Service (including deliveries). She also worked with the teen OB clinic at MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists. [continue reading]

Combining Two Passions
CHPE Student Spotlight: MMMP Intern Aniyah Beck

Aniyah Beck has two passions: sports and medicine. So it's no surprise that her dream is to become a sports medicine physician. On her way to fulfilling that dream, she's become a long-time MAHEC pipeline student.

"I first got involved with MAHEC in the seventh grade," Aniyah shared. "I went to the MAHEC HealthCareers Summer Camp at Western Carolina University. I knew that I wanted to go into medicine, and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about potential health careers, and from that point on I've been participating in different MAHEC programs." [continue reading]

Pursuing a Life of Service
CHPE Student Spotlight: Neena Phommahaxay

Since moving to Upstate New York from Laos when she was nine, Neena Phommahaxay has always struggled in school. She’s used to working harder in class than her English-speaking peers.

“I always doubted myself,” said Neena. “I didn’t think I would go into healthcare because I thought that I wasn’t smart enough. English is not my native language, and I do struggle a lot, even today. I still have to translate things in my head. I guess when other students put in about an hour, I have to put in about three or four hours studying.” [continue reading]

It's Never Too Late
CHPE Student Spotlight: FNP Scholar Bevin McGahey

Bevin McGahey, BSN, always planned on getting her master’s degree. What she didn’t plan on was waiting so long to do it.

“I anticipated going back to school much earlier,” said Bevin. [continue reading]


Keeping Her Eye on the Prize
CHPE Student Spotlight: AHEC Scholar Tanisha Bingley

A major tragedy brought Tanisha Bingley, RN, to a career in healthcare. She was only 10 years old when her stepmother had a stroke and was admitted to the hospital, but that experience made a lasting impression. She decided then and there that she wanted to work in healthcare.

“It all happened really fast,” Tanisha said. “She literally went into surgery the day after getting admitted and didn’t make it out. The comfort that we received from the healthcare team really inspired me to go into healthcare myself.” [continue reading]

Spotlight on MAHEC’s Dental Hygienists
Celebrating the hard work of three Dental Health Center employees

October is National Dental Hygiene Month, so we’d like to take this opportunity to learn more about our amazing dental hygienists here at MAHEC!

“It’s very rewarding to see someone that came in with low confidence because of the poor condition of their teeth and then help them turn that around,” Megan Cochran shared. “I really like being able to play a role in that improvement.” [continue reading]

Making a Difference and Keepin’ it Real
High School Intern Pursues a Path to Racial Equity

You might say that this fall’s Minority Medical Mentoring Program intern, Seth Bellamy, is one of a kind. Seth is a senior at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville High School, but his long list of accomplishments would lead you to believe he is far older than 17.

Being one of a kind is not always a good thing, however, especially when it comes to issues of equity and inclusion. Shortly after entering high school, Seth realized he was the only African American male in his class. This awareness inspired him to start a school club to support other students who might feel similarly alone. [continue reading]

Somebody Has to Stay
Celebrating 25 years at MAHEC and a lifetime in Asheville

Jacquelyn Hallum, MBA, MHA, always wanted to be an attorney. In fact, she was studying for the LSAT when she got a call about a new position at MAHEC. She remembers her law books sitting in the back of her car during the interview.

“The job at MAHEC was always supposed to be short-term until I passed my LSAT,” said Jacquelyn. “I didn’t even know what a grant-funded position was at that time. I just knew it was a job. It turns out it was a very interesting job.” [continue reading]

From CNA to MD
A Maternal Child Health Fellow is reaching her goals one step at a time

Dr. Latonya Beatty started her medical career as a certified nursing assistant before getting her nursing degree from East Carolina University and working as a nurse for three years. She then went back to school to become a nurse practitioner and then back to school again to become a family medicine physician.

God and her love of family medicine pushed Dr. Beatty to keep going back to school. “I wanted to obtain a stronger skill set for the interests I love within family medicine.” [continue reading]

An Asheville Project of Her Own
Pharmacy resident pursues her passion in ambulatory care

Since Pharmacy School, Kanesha Day, PharmD, CPP, has known exactly where she wanted to go for her PGY2. Inspired by her research on The Asheville Project—a program that launched in 1997 and sought to help city employees with chronic diseases—Kanesha started dreaming of coming to Asheville.

“I became enamored with The Asheville Project and what they did in the ambulatory care space,” said Kanesha. “I thought Asheville is where I need to go to become the best ambulatory care pharmacist I can be.” [continue reading]

A Glimpse of Coronavirus from the Hospital: Lessons Learned

I write to you from Mission Hospital where I have been for the last 14 days on our inpatient service. You have probably been asking yourselves, on the outside, the same questions that we have been asking on the inside. Hopefully we will soon find ourselves on the downward slope of the peak. But we will be battling this for many months ahead.

I hope that everyone finds some peace in the midst of this chaos. Being so close to it in the hospital has certainly challenged me to consider how I want to live my life. [continue reading]

Creating a Blueprint for Rural Health
MAHEC’s Rural Teaching Practices Improve Access to Care in WNC

When MAHEC approached Mountain Community Health Partnership about becoming a rural teaching practice in Yancey and Mitchell counties, Dr. Jessica White ‑ one of MCHP's newest providers - was eager to get involved. In fact, she became the faculty champion for this initiative.

“It was largely selfish,” Jessica jokes. “I missed the ongoing learning opportunities MAHEC provides and being able to contact faculty whenever I had questions. I knew that creating a culture of continuing education would make rural practice more sustainable for me in the long term.” [continue reading]

Going Where the Need Is Greatest
Bringing excellent care to underserved corners of North Carolina

As rural hospitals are closing in alarming numbers across the state, people in rural areas are relying more heavily on their primary care providers — a dwindling resource. Fewer up-and-coming physicians are choosing to specialize in primary care.

Travis Williams, a fourth-year medical student at the UNC School of Medicine, is one of those dedicated individuals driven to go where the need is greatest. His path to medicine started somewhat unexpectedly. [continue reading]

UNC Asheville Campus Medical Student Discovers Hope Amidst Crisis

I walked into the room of a dying man. This phrase might conjure up the image of a frail, white-haired patient peacefully nearing the end of life. Alex, however, was thirty—just two years older than me. I was a third-year medical student doing a rotation in the ICU. 

This first encounter was sadly inglorious: As my team entered Alex's room, the police officer who'd been guarding him walked out, leaving Alex handcuffed to the bed.

Alex looked like a ghost, his cheeks sunken and lifeless. A heart infection caused by his IV drug use was spewing dangerous bacteria through his bloodstream, infecting his lungs and spine. When not sedated, he was delirious, eyes staring wildly between wasted temples. [continue reading]

Learning How To Heal For Two
Healing the Next Generation by Training This One

The day Becca found out she was pregnant, she panicked. She was actively using and using a lot. She knew she needed help. A friend told her about Project CARA, a perinatal substance use treatment program at MAHEC Ob/ Gyn Specialists in Asheville. Project CARA is one of the few programs of its kind in North Carolina and across the U.S. 

In order to ensure that more families can access this life-saving care, UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC is committed training the next generation of healthcare providers including learners from the UNC School of Medicine, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. [continue reading]

MAHEC Interns Dig In to Rural Health with New MPH Program
Interns Join Inaugural Class of UNC Gillings MPH Program in Asheville

Dig In! Yancey Community Garden, tucked away in the western corner of the state, is one fertile example of a small but rapidly growing movement to end food insecurity in one of the most economically distressed regions in the state.

Community initiatives like Dig In!’s are of great interest to public health professionals and students like Kol Gold-Leighton, a recent MAHEC public health intern and student in a new WNC-based master of public health program that is a collaboration between UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC Asheville, and MAHEC. [continue reading]

Twice Bitten and Lot Less Shy
Resident Education Prepares Doctors for any Emergency

Although there was no one in sight, the scream coming from the wooded trail could be heard all the way from the parking lot.

Luckily, it caught the attention of a group of third-year family medicine residents who had gathered by the nature trail behind the Mountain Area Health Education Center.

The residents had just discovered the trail was closed because of a bear sighting, which made the cry for help even more alarming. [continue reading]

Join the Search: Help MAHEC Find the "Missing Millions"
MAHEC Pilots Hepatitis C Clinic at its Family Health Center

When she visited her MAHEC family physician for a routine checkup, Grace had no symptoms and no idea that she was living with Hepatitis C. She never participated in risky behaviors associated with contracting the virus, but she felt the same stigma.

The MAHEC Hepatitis C Clinic was started by Rebecca Grandy, PharmD, and Eric Smith, MD, at the MAHEC Family Health Center at Enka/Candler when they realized the high prevalence of Hepatitis C in the community but a lack of resources to treat it. [continue reading]

Teaming Up for Better Health
MAHEC and Pisgah Legal Work Together to Improve Patients' Lives

Sixty-year-old “James” remembers well the day of his appointment with Dr. Brittany Matney at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). He looked very worried, and she was concerned.

“I told her the bank was about to take my house,” says James.

“Then Dr. Matney said, ‘I’ve got someone you should talk to,’ and Anne Salter at Pisgah Legal called me that very day.”

James is just one of the MAHEC patients now benefiting from a new medical-legal partnership to improve patients’ lives. MAHEC doctors and Pisgah Legal lawyers are teaming up to improve health and address social issues that impact health such as affordable housing, and safety in the home. [continue reading]

Celebrating the Joys (and a few challenges) of Rural Practice

This spring, rural physicians Jay Erickson, MD, from Whitefish, Montana and Hendersonville Family Medicine Residency Program graduate Aaron Beck, MD, spoke to a room full of learners at MAHEC that included medical students, residents, and fellows.

Jay and Aaron both described the joys of being a family physician in a small rural community like being able to practice full-spectrum care, working in an independent practice, and getting to know their patients’ lives beyond the clinic walls. They also answered learners’ questions about how to prepare for rural practice and how to prevent burnout and isolation. [continue reading]

National Medical Society Honors SOM Asheville Campus Director and Third-Year Students

On April 24, 2018, Robyn Latessa, MD, director and assistant dean at the UNC School of Medicine (SOM) Asheville Campus, and four of the program’s students were inducted into membership in Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) at a ceremony at The Carolina Club at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

AOA is national medical honor society that recognizes excellence in scholarship, research, service to others, and professional and community leadership. [continue reading]

Asheville Campus Welcomes FIRST Accelerated Medical Student
Rural student sets sights on improving healthcare here in WNC

Bailey Allen is finishing up his first year at the UNC School of Medicine, but he won’t be paying rent in Chapel Hill for much longer.

Bailey is one of three students recently accepted into the School of Medicine’s Fully Integrated Readiness for Service Training (FIRST) Program, an accelerated program that enables students to complete their medical degree in three years followed by placement in an NC family medicine residency program and then three years of post-residency practice in an underserved area of the state.

Born and raised in a small town in eastern North Carolina, Bailey knew exactly where he wanted to complete his medical school education and residency. [continue reading]

MAHEC's ECHO Is Being Heard Around WNC

Last month, a troubled student sat down with a school nurse to talk about what was making it so hard for her to stay calm and stay in class. So hard, in fact, that she often ran out of the classroom without warning and hid until the sound of her crying gave her away.

She wasn't just being evaluated by one nurse, but also by a team of medical experts from the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and more than 20 other nurses from across Western North Carolina who were all considering how to best meet her needs. Thanks to Project ECHO®, a new virtual training model offered by MAHEC, no one had to leave their office to help this student or the thousands of other children in their care. [continue reading]

Nurse Scholars Are Committed To Improving Health Across WNC

Growing up in the rural mountains of Virginia, Kim Iamurri was surrounded by doctors and nurses, but she never thought she’d become one.

“I loved helping people in my massage practice,” she shares, “but I wanted to do more to encourage wellness from the inside out. I found myself spending more time coaching my clients and sharing health prevention tools so they wouldn’t need so much massage in the first place.”

At some point, it dawned on her this is what a nurse does, so she decided to enroll in WCU's highly ranked nursing program. [continue reading]

Growing Body of Evidence: MAHEC Expands its Research Capacity

We recently sat down with Research Division Director, Kathy Foley, PhD, to discuss the expansion of MAHEC’s research, library and knowledge services team. Since good research requires asking the right questions, we thought we’d start by posing a few of our own.

Over the past year, your research team has added eight scientists and assistants, and you’ve added a librarian. What has spurred this growth?

MAHEC has received state appropriations to develop an academic health sciences center that can more fully assess and address our region’s rural healthcare needs. We need a robust research team to support our state mandate to improve the health and wellbeing of rural North Carolinians. That’s no small mandate. [continue reading]

MAHEC Partners with Helpmate To Reduce Domestic Violence

If you are a woman between 18 and 65, your next well-woman visit at a MAHEC family health center will include the same screening questions you are used to answering to help your healthcare provider determine if you are at risk for certain illnesses or chronic health conditions.

This year’s well-woman visit will include a few questions you may never have been asked before, questions that can predict whether you have a 70 percent or higher risk for stroke, heart disease and alcohol abuse and a 60 percent higher risk of asthma. Here’s one of them:

“Within the last year, have you been afraid of your partner or ex-partner?” [continue reading]

When Food Is Medicine

After graduation, Kristy Ponce took a job as a certified nurse assistant at a hospital in Florida where she lived. Then she began to notice something curious. She kept seeing the same patients over and over again on the cardiovascular unit where she worked. She realized many of these patients wouldn’t keep coming back if they changed their diet. “Food is medicine,” Kristy shares.

Kristy is one of two registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) embedded full time at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) at Biltmore. The other is Fred Stichel, MHS, RDN, LDN. Both support MAHEC patients, faculty, and residents and post-graduate dietetic interns from Western Carolina University. [continue reading]

MAHEC Is Ready for MACRA, and So Are Our Clients

Last week was the deadline for physicians and other eligible professionals to begin collecting data to meet reporting requirements under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) or face a potential reduction in future reimbursement.

WNC practices who have been working with MAHEC’s Health Innovation Partners (HIP) team have nothing to worry about. The HIP Team has helped more than 120 WNC practices implement the kinds of quality improvement, data collection and reporting processes that are recognized and reimbursed at higher levels under MACRA. The HIP Team was asked to contribute four case studies for the recently published MACRA Toolkit. [continue reading]

The Pursuit of Passion

Why leave a 15+-year career in engineering to start all over on an entirely new path? To pursue a passion. 

“I’ve always been interested in pursuing a medical career, but I just never thought it was possible,” says Marcia Thacher, UNCA student. “Engineering is great, but it’s just one of those things where it wasn’t fulfilling my passion or purpose.” 

It’s a feeling many can relate to – being good at something but feeling like your true calling lies elsewhere. Marcia spent the past ten years trying to make her way back to school, but life events, and maybe a little self-doubt, kept getting in the way. Luckily, mentors, family, and her husband continued to push her to follow her dream.

A few years ago, Marcia set the self-doubt to the side and took the plunge back into school. This summer, she took part in the UNCA internship at MAHEC. [continue reading]

MAHEC Says Goodbye to a Trailblazer in Women's Health
Susan Meade always longed to live at the beach. There was just one problem. She worked at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, and she married a man who wanted to live in the mountains. Make that two problems. 

They decided to compromise by moving to Asheville first and then the beach. That was 1977. Fast forward 40 years, and Wilmington’s loss has been Western North Carolina’s gain. 

“Susan is a pioneer in team-based care,” shares Dr. Beth Buys, Ob/Gyn Division Director. “She has always worked collaboratively with physicians and physician assistants to ensure patients have the support they need to get well and stay well.”

In fact, she has taught hundreds of providers how to practice collaborative care, even presenting on this team-based model at an American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) annual conference.

On September 1, 2017, Susan will retire from a career dedicated to advancing women’s health, with the last 25 years spent right here at MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists, a teaching practice she helped build.  [continue reading]

Miracle Babies: A Surprise Pregnancy Became Double the Risk, but Double the Joy
This last year has been quite a shock for Bonnie and her husband, Jeremy. In fact, they had several increasingly larger shocks in a row. First, they discovered they were pregnant with their second child. Three weeks later, they learned it would be twins. Fast forward another three weeks and they discover the babies are not just twins, they’re mono-mono (Monoamniotic) twins - the highest risk type of twin pregnancy with a 50-50 chance of live birth for both twins. 

“We just had a lot to process because we wanted to get excited about the pregnancy, but there was a also a lot of fear,” says Bonnie. “It was a pretty scary situation.” [continue reading]

You Don't Have to be a Doctor to Save Someone's Life
Violet was the only one nearby at a family cook-out when her 4-year-old ‘adopted’ grandson, Caleb, went from running and jumping to being frozen in place with panic in his eyes. Violet ran to him and quickly realized he was not able to breathe. 

As part of the Department of Library and Knowledge Services at MAHEC, Violet does not provide hands-on clinical care. However, she attended a Basic Life Support (BLS) course at MAHEC earlier in the year, along with many other office-based staff that were interested in learning the basic skills of life support. She had no idea at the time just how important a role that class would play in her life. [continue reading]

Once a nurse, always a nurse
Once a nurse, always a nurse. At least that’s how it’s worked for Barbara. She started her nursing career at age 16 as what was then called a “Nursing Assistant” at Mission St. Joseph’s Hospital. Eventually she retired from MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists in 2013, but she still has her LPN license.

Having worked her whole life as a nurse, it wasn’t easy to step away. It was about a year before she came back to MAHEC as a volunteer. Every 

Tuesday from 8-12, Barbara can be found gliding from patient to patient in the waiting room. She checks in with how they’re doing, takes the time to listen, provides reassurance, and sometimes just sits with those who need someone by their side.

“We don’t know where that patient’s been when they walk through that door,” she says. “I hope they get the feeling that they’re important, that they’re not taken for granted, and that we’re glad they’re here.”

There’s something special about Barbara. It’s not uncommon for a patient to tell her something they may not be comfortable sharing with even their doctor. She always makes sure to pass on anything the doctor may need to know in order for the patient to get the best care possible. And it’s happened more than once that she’s recognized as having been someone’s nurse from back when she was working. She leaves that kind of impression on people. Perhaps it’s the way she tries to think of others.

“There’s something good about everybody,” she says. “You might have to look a little bit, but you’ll find it.”

Needless to say, you don’t have to look very far with Barbara.

Saving a family India arrived for her scheduled cesarean section feeling some normal pre-surgery jitters as she had experienced a minor hemorrhage with her previous child, but could never imagine the severity in store for her this time around. She lost 6.5 liters of blood – her entire blood volume. MAHEC cares for the highest risk OB patients and helped initiate and put in place an OB hemorrhage protocol at Mission Hospital to care for patients just like India. Dr. Bre Bolivar, Ob/Gyn Hospitalist on faculty at MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists, is on the OB Hemorrhage Team and was well-prepared for India when she arrived.

“When there’s a severe hemorrhage like this, you really need a team-based approach,” says Dr. Bolivar. “Everybody needs to be on the same page on how to take care of these patients. I was really happy that it all went the way it was planned and the protocol worked the way it should have.”

And no one is happier that Dr. Bolivar heard the calling to medicine than India and her family. She feels like she found a family in the team that kept her alive and will never forget it. “I think about it every day,” she says. “I thank God every day that I’m alive and can see these kids.”

MAHEC intern on path to healthcare
During his summer internship with MAHEC, UNC Asheville senior Alex Green learned about the impact a great health professional can have on a community—not just by providing care, but also by displaying leadership. “While in May, I really thought I’m going to be a dentist and nothing else, now [after this internship], I’m thinking I’m going to be a dentist who has his hand in, always trying to affect the community, to give back in a way that’s greater than just practicing medicine.” Green was so inspired at MAHEC that he continued his work for credit at UNCA this past fall, speaking to high school students about the importance of returning to rural communities when they are first contemplating career paths and encouraging them to follow in his footsteps.

Women’s Health embraces Centering Pregnancy®
Imagine a room filled with expectant mothers and fathers seated in a circle talking about their pregnancy, learning about nutrition or preterm labor, asking questions of each other and their doctor. This is an empowering model for prenatal care called Centering Pregnancy® that combines prenatal assessments with peer support and education. Women learn about their changing bodies, and families form lasting relationships as they face one of the most transformative experiences of their lives: pregnancy. Amanda Murphy, CNM, is MAHEC’s Centering Pregnancy® Coordinator and Director. “The group has such a deep knowledge base, deeper than any of them realize,” Murphy says. “So when I’m sitting in group, and I hear mothers talking to other mothers about what they are experiencing and what they have found helps or doesn’t, that’s what it’s all about.”

MAHEC residents practice full-scope medicine
When asked to describe MAHEC, first-year family medicine resident Margarette Shegog, MD, likens the organization to a patchwork quilt. “MAHEC is lots of different pieces, colors, textures, and fabrics that come together to make this beautiful creation that also keeps you warm,” Dr. Shegog says. “It’s an environment supportive of experience outside medical knowledge,” she says. Before entering into medical school in Ohio, Dr. Shegog already had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia and southern Africa, where she firsthand saw the devastation of HIV in rural villages. She then continued on to travel India as an America-India Service Corps Fellow.

"Without her, we wouldn't have this baby," said Kat. "She gave me my miracle baby."

Kat and John wanted a baby, but with three traumatic miscarriages they had nearly given up hope.  Kat was referred to MAHEC’s Women’s Health Team and on the day of her first prenatal visit Kat thought she was having another miscarriage.  John told her to go to MAHEC instead of the emergency room.  

“It was nerve wracking and I was terrified to death.  I thought I was miscarrying, but she [Dr. Warren] told me it was okay,” Kat said.  “She is the first one who took the time to talk with me.  She was always patient and understanding.  Dr. Warren helped me get through and everyone can’t believe I did it.”

“It is really special to be able to go to a doctor like that,” said John.  “They know how to explain things.  They are caring.  We’re really glad to go somewhere they show so much care, because it’s special to us to have this baby.  The care there is extraordinary.”

"This is the place to be if you want to gain, not just medical knowledge, but also valuable life experience," said Chan.
Yu Kwan Chan, MD, Family Medicine Resident, starting a ‘Walk with a Doc’ community project

In choosing my training program, I wanted a place teemed with scientific minds and confident, yet humble and loving attitudes that I can be influenced by. I have certainly found such people in this place that I have grown to love and enjoy. 

This spring I will start a ‘Walk With a Doc’ effort to meet patients outside the walls of clinical healthcare.  The goal is to use the outdoor environment as a gateway to conversations about health, while participating in a low-impact exercise program.  My vision is to share time with patients without the confines of the office environment to walk and talk about managing chronic disease, smoking cessation, or weight loss.”

"I think it's incredibly valuable as we train to provide full spectrum medical care, to know the community and understand its needs..."
Liza Young, MD, Family Medicine Resident, providing women's healthcare at a methadone clinic

"During college, I became interested in medicine by volunteering at a HIV/AIDS nursing home.  I was fascinated in the ways in which the disease affected the patients' physical, mental, emotional, and social well being.  I have carried this interest in caring for a community with me throughout medical school and residency.  

That is how I became involved with the project at local methadone clinics.  I’ve really enjoyed being able to get out of the MAHEC clinic and be more involved with the community.  Meeting the women at the methadone clinic has been invaluable.  We were planning to provide women with contraception, but we quickly realized there was so much more we could provide.  Now we are helping them access basic women’s healthcare, like pap smears and mammograms, that they otherwise might not get.”





When Charlottesville-native Katie Leiner headed to North Carolina for college, she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to study. But she was curious about the human condition and what contributed to making it better. This curiosity led her to take courses in psychology, sociology, chemistry, and political science at Davidson College. A study abroad experience in Denmark sparked her interest in addiction, a field that drew from many of the approaches she had studied and informed her growing understanding of the opioid crisis back home.