Our Stories & Publications

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From MAHEC Patient to Practitioner

School-Based Therapist Will Cockey
When Will Cockey, LCMHC-A, joined MAHEC’s Psychiatry Department—first, as a behavioral health intern and today as a school-based therapist—it wasn’t his first encounter with the organization. That happened eight years earlier when Will and his wife, Nicole, were patients in the Centering Pregnancy program at MAHEC Ob/Gyn.

Creating a Healthier WNC

MAHEC Takes a Leadership Role in HOP Initiative
The Healthy Opportunities Pilot is an innovative initiative that aims to demonstrate the personal health benefits of delivering non-medical services—housing, transportation, food, and assistance related to interpersonal violence—to eligible Medicaid beneficiaries. It is the first comprehensive program of its kind in the nation.

Finding a New Path

MPH Student and AHEC Scholar Andrew Rainey
“It seems like there are a lot of different roles that are present when addressing a community’s hopes for itself. And hope is such an integral part of health: What do you want for yourself? What does health even mean or look like to a group?"

After 30+ Years, a Fond Farewell

Susan Gray reflects on her time at MAHEC as she retires
Susan began her career at MAHEC in the early 1990s, hired by Dr. Hal Lawrence, who was developing our first Ob/Gyn residency program. “I had no medical terminology experience and learned from transcribing patients’ office visits from Dictaphones/tapes,” says Susan.

A Calling to Come Back Home

UNC School of Medicine Student Diana Sanchez
"I just felt a little discouraged about my academic abilities and what I could do in the future with college and even with healthcare. MAHEC really provided me with that support and let me know it’s possible. You can get along through life if you have the right mentors and if you’re nurtured from a young age."

Coming Back to Asheville

UNC School of Medicine Student Reese Willingham
"Coming back to Asheville felt like the biggest celebration of my life. I finally got to see who was joining me here at MAHEC. It was like everyone had self-selected so strategically and my people appeared."

Planting Seeds

Dr. Valdez is training the next generation of dentists
Amadeo Valdez, DDS, MAS, director of the General Practice Residency Program here at MAHEC, grew up in Coahuila, a small border town in Mexico. There, students have to decide their career path early on.

Changing Perspectives

MMMP Intern Fabiola Patricio

During her time as a MAHEC Minority Medical Mentoring Program (MMMP) intern, Fabiola Patricio has built relationships with people from across the medical field, learned more about what she wants to do in the future, and even helped deliver a baby, but the experience that had the biggest impact on her occurred early on in her internship.


Employee Spotlight: Shanya Whiteside, CMA Pathways Graduate

A Lifetime of Care

Shanya Whiteside, CMA, learned how to be a caretaker before she ever stepped foot into a classroom. Every morning, Shanya would make her grandmother’s breakfast, take her sugar levels, and give her insulin if she needed it–all while getting herself ready for the day. After school, she would do it all again.


MAHEC Rural Fellow Spotlight: Ruslan Garcia, MD

Going Strong in Murphy, NC
Dr. Ruslan Garcia was born in Cuba, grew up in Miami, and did his residency in New York City, so when he accepted a position at Appalachian Mountain Community Health Center (AMCHC) in Murphy, NC, most people thought he wouldn’t last long. That was two years ago, and Dr. Garcia is still going strong and loving his work.

Coming Full Circle at MAHEC

Bryanna Williams, CMA, Becomes first CMA Pathways Program Graduate
Bryanna Williams, CMA, has known she wanted to go into healthcare from a young age when her grandfather was hospitalized with pneumonia and eventually passed away. That experience served as a catalyst and inspiration for her to begin her healthcare journey.

Finding His Calling and the Joy of Rural Practice

Brian Barrow, MD
From a young age, Brian Barrow knew he would be a surgeon, but he didn’t see himself becoming an ob-gyn. At one point, he even begged his family to talk him out of it. But Dr. Barrow eventually discovered his calling and the joys of practicing in a small rural community.

What We Do Matters

How We Do It Matters, Too
When Ashley Steward, MBA, came to MAHEC in December of 2020 as a program manager, she was looking for a job in public health that would have a direct impact on healthcare. While in this role, she helped identify the need for a team that could collaborate with departments across MAHEC by fostering long-term, sustainable partnerships; guiding ideas from abstract to actionable; and connecting innovators with funders – all while keeping a focus on equity.

Finding Fulfillment through Helping Others

“The Light Went On, and It Never Went Off”
All of the experiences in Kevin Mahoney’s life that most people would see as setbacks, Kevin sees as an opportunity to help more people. As a certified peer support specialist (CPSS) at MAHEC, Kevin helps people struggling with mental health issues, psychological trauma, or a substance use disorder by drawing from his own life experiences with similar issues. You could say sharing his story is part of Kevin’s job.

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. She took 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.

Healthy Competition

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.

Improving Nutrition, Improving Lives

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.

The Business of Prevention

WCU MSW Intern Laura Martin
For the last 15 years, Laura has been the director of child development at Verner Center for Early Learning, but, a few years ago, she started grappling with the idea of going back to school.

Hallum Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

In accepting the award, Jacquelyn thanked the great women who paved the way for us today and invoked the mythical Sankofa bird from Ghana.
Congratulations to Jacquelyn Hallum, MBA, MHA, director of Health Careers and Diversity Education, who was honored with the Suzanne DeFerie Lifetime Achievement Award at 2022's annual WomanUP Celebration hosted by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.

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

Working Towards a Solution

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. Plus, she knew from personal experience the positive impact counseling can have on a person’s life, having received it herself.

Back Where She Started

Symone Simmons
Symone Simmons was recently hired as a program coordinator for Graduate Medical Education, 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).

A Home Away From Home

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.


MAHEC’s MMMP Exceeds Expectations

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.

Cathy Nielson, MPH retires from MAHEC

For Nielson, the Third Time’s a Charm!

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.


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

Beginning at the End
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.

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

A Career Shift Mid-Education
"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."

CHPE Student Profile – Summer Intern Kory Price

Exploring a Career in Healthcare at the Simulation Center
Kory Price, a senior at TC Roberson High School, spent his summer working at MAHEC’s Simulation Center. For 16 hours a week, Kory got a backstage view of everything that goes into a medical simulation – from setting the scene to cleaning up the fake blood.

Putting a Dent in the Problem

AHEC Scholar Kamal Sharpe
Kamal is a senior at UNCA pursuing a major in health and wellness and a minor in Africana studies, and he’s just completed his first year in the NC AHEC Scholars program at MAHEC. Although being an AHEC Scholar has looked a lot different this past year because of COVID restrictions, Kamal says he’s still gotten a lot out of the program.

Serving the Community

AHEC Scholar Carlos Pena Magos

Carlos Pena Magos has wanted to be a physician since he was a child, but growing up in a low-income neighborhood, he didn’t think that dream could be a reality until he got to high school. Because of his good grades, teachers started telling him about different scholarship opportunities and encouraging him to apply. That encouragement, plus an internship shadowing healthcare providers at a local hospital, convinced Carlos to try for a career in the medical field.


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.


The Flavors of Healthcare

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.


Experience helps student connect the dots and find her calling

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. In high school, she thought about going into criminal justice. It wasn’t until college that she discovered a passion for healthcare.

Latosha Plummer, Registered Nurse at MAHEC OB/GYN

Worth the Wait
For Latosha Plummer, RN, 2020 was the year her father was sick with COVID-19 and spent 45 days in the ICU. It was the year she worked in healthcare during a pandemic while also going to school. And it was the year she lost three close family members. But 2020 was also the year Latosha achieved her life-long goal of graduating from nursing school.

AHEC Scholar Devan Woody

From Patient to Physician
As he’s applying for medical school, Devan’s keeping his ultimate career goals in mind. UNC Chapel Hill is his first choice because “they value reaching underserved communities and rural medicine. I come from a rural area that’s underserved, and that’s my goal – to practice in a rural area like Burnsville or other rural communities in this area."

All Things are Possible With a Little Magic

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.


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).

Combining Two Passions

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.

Pursuing a Life of Service

Neena Phommahaxay
Neena was in her late 20s when she decided to go back to school in 2011. She started going to community college and was considering becoming a nurse, but soon realized that it wasn’t the right fit for her.

Two-year initiative aims to advance equity in healthcare access, treatment, and outcomes

MAHEC Pursues Equity with Leading Healthcare Organizations
The Mountain Area Health Education Center joined the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and other leading healthcare organizations in October to kick off an 18-month initiative to improve health equity. A Novartis US Foundation scholarship made it possible for MAHEC to participate in the IHI Pursing Equity Learning and Action Network, which aims to reduce health inequities by implementing comprehensive strategies to create and sustain equitable health systems.

Creating a Blueprint for Rural Health

MAHEC’s Rural Teaching Practices Improve Access to Care in WNC
Dr. Peverall came to Celo Health Center more than 21 years ago as a MAHEC rural fellow. Originally from New York, she met and married a North Carolina native while in medical school. When it came time to choose a residency program, she looked nationwide. MAHEC's family medicine residency program in Asheville was her top choice because of its location and reputation for providing excellent hands-on training and patient care.

The ECHO® Heard Around Western North Carolina

UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC’s innovative virtual training removes barriers to quality healthcare in rural communities.

Thanks to Project ECHO®, an innovative virtual training model offered by UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, no one had to leave their office to help this student or the thousands of other children in their care.


Mobilizing Resources to Reduce Harm

A pharmacist moves out of the hospital and into rural communities to get a broader perspective on how to address public health challenges.
You might say that Matt Ransom, a hospital pharmacist, really goes the distance to improve health. At least he has since enrolling in UNC Gillings School’s MPH Program in Asheville and working with the Toe River Health District to develop mobile harm reduction services in rural Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey counties.

Project CARA

Learning How to Heal for Two
When Project CARA was founded, it created a program that heals families and teaches providers how to treat substance use disorders, stigma, and generations of trauma.

By high school, Wesley Roten knew he wanted to be a rural physician. Now in medical school, participating in UNC's rural scholars program is helping him realize his goal.

Cultivating a Rural Scholar
Wesley’s first introduction to a career in medicine was an after-school job cleaning the small family practice where his mother worked as a medical assistant. He later shadowed one of the practice’s physicians as an unpaid intern. This early mentor inspired Wesley to apply to medical school at UNC in Chapel Hill.

Fast-tracked UNC medical student Bailey Allen sets sights on improving healthcare in Western North Carolina.

Asheville Campus Welcomes First UNC FIRST Program Student
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.
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