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Physicians of the Future


By Erin Pesut

Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine and Cape Fear Valley Health have teamed up to do something incredible.

Cape Fear Valley Health, the eighth largest health system in North Carolina, has 1,000,000 patient visits per year. They rank among the top 200 health systems nationally and among the top 100 busiest Emergency Departments. And yet, CEO at Cape Fear Valley Health Mike Nagowski said, “If there’s a hot spot of physician shortage, it’s here in North Carolina.”

Surprisingly, nearly 25 percent of North Carolina counties do not even have an OB/GYN specialist or a general surgeon, which means most patients are traveling for the care they need. Another problem is increasing competition for new doctors, who often choose to practice in larger, more metropolitan areas. Campbell’s mission is to train doctors for rural areas.

Sowing Seeds of Change

The Cape Fear Valley Health System Residency Program was just a seed in a conversation—a simple idea—from back in 2010 in which a collaboration between Campbell University, the largest private school in North Carolina and which also happens to be the largest medical school in the state,  and the health system known as Cape Fear Valley would team up to help both train the best and brightest physicians and encourage them to stay and continue their professions in our local and more rural communities. 

With the growing need, an estimate is circulating that by 2030, we’re expecting a shortage of 2,000 primary care specialists. Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine produces these kind of doctors. Why not work together?

The newly launched Residency Program is comprised of 32 coveted spots in General Surgery, Emergency Medicine, OB/GYN, Internal Medicine, and Transitional Year. More than 1,300 applications were received and over 200 interviews were held. Psychiatry and Pediatrics are currently undergoing accreditation review and are expected to begin in the summer of 2018.


Meeting the Residents

On August 9, 2017, I stopped by the Cape Fear Valley Health Residency Program Launch in the Cape Fear Valley Rehabilitation Center Auditorium to meet the young doctors who will help shape the future of health care in our area. Standing at the podium, Dr. Don Maharty, Vice President of Medical Education at Cape Fear Valley Health, called the event “a landmark day in this region.” He announced the “Herculean effect” that it took to bring a collaboration of this magnitude to fruition, noting that this single day of celebration would create ripples that would continue to affect our community for months and years to come. The impact of training these doctors here in a health system that so desperately needs them is a big deal.

The mode of thinking is that 50% of residents will stay and continue to live where they received their medical training, so as 500 people go through this residency program, about 250 of them will stay and put down roots for their practice. With a minor league baseball team on its way, the low cost of living, the asset of diversity, and a big city with a small-town feel which happens to be close to the mountains and close to the beach, Fayetteville is looking like a brighter and brighter star on the map.


Healing Together, Leaving a Legacy

Before the ceremony, students, faculty of the residency program, family members, and local officials were milling about. Campbell medical students were wearing their white coats, a symbol of the healing profession. Their white coats, though, stopped just below the waist. Residents, who had since graduated medical school, had their embroidered white coats draped over their arm or on the back of their chair. They had yet to put them on. 

“Just to go another foot,” Don Maharty said, noting the increased length of the resident’s coats, “it takes another four years. It takes blood, sweat, toil, and yes, a lot of coffee.”

New residents received their long white coats garnered with the Cape Fear Valley logo over their heart and Campbell’s symbol over the shoulder signaling how these two institutions work together. To become a trained phyisican of tomorrow, it takes both heart and strength. 

Meet the Residents

Whether it was an inspirational teacher, an early science class, or a propensity to give back, these students are coming here to Fayetteville from all over the country. Students are arriving from Georgia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Washington, Iowa, Tennessee, New Jersey, Maine, Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Colorado and Missouri.

Take, for instance, Dr. Illona Brown. She grew up in both Ukraine and Russia and attended Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine. Why did she want to become a physician? The resident from Internal Medicine said, “It’s a loaded question. First of all, of course, I want to help others, but I particularly like Internal Medicine because I like physiology and the science behind the human body.”

Michael “Rick” Stone, who went to medical school at A.T. Still University of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona and is also an Internal Medicine resident said that his interest in pursuing the physician path started early. “In high school,” he said, “I took an anatomy class that I loved.”

As the ninth largest state in the nation, North Carolina ranks 34 out of 50 in primary care providers per capita. There is a shortage of surgeons, OB/GYNs, psychiatrist, and pediatricians. John Kauffman, dean at Campbell's medical school, called some areas of North Carolina a “doctor desert.” He added, smiling looking out to the room of residents, “There is plenty of job security. There will be lots of options when you graduate.”

The graduates of this residency program will not only change the face of medicine in our region, they will also be a tremendous economic stimulus. Dean Kauffman says this joint effort will help bring $300 million to the area over ten years. With the creation of hundreds of jobs, residents living here, and, hopefully, staying here, the joint effort will pull in millions of dollars. “It will be transformational,” Kauffman noted. 


Class Representative

Dr. Dayton Preslar, the peer-selected class representative of this inaugural class of residents hails from Campbell University. Originally from Gainesville, Georgia, Preslar is part of the one-year Transitional Year, an internship rotating through the medical specialities.

In his two months of living in Fayetteville, he already has the lay of the land. He became a member at CrossFit Ferus and enjoys frequenting the Mash House and Big Daddy’s Burgers. He has enjoyed seeing what a melting pot of cultures Fayetteville contains. “People come from all over and there are so many different countries represented.” As he begins to understand and witness the ins and outs of military culture, he also admires “their daily work ethic and routine.”

Dr. Matthew Walker

This Army veteran and OB/GYN resident is from Lynchburg, Virginia. He is also a graduate of Campbell’s medical school and his wife, receiving her masters in Public Health, is an active duty service member at Fort Bragg.

Walker credits Dr. Paul Sparzak, program director for Obstetrics and Gynecology who coordinates the day-to-day and year-to-year aspects of education and the residency rotation, as the reason he wanted to be matched with the OB/GYN residency. Why OB/GYN? 

“First, they’re babies, and it’s exciting medicine,” he said.

Dr. Walker’s favorite spot around town? Clark Park. For restaurants, “You name it,” he said, and then he mentioned Mission BBQ. He recommends “any of the Dogwood Festivals” and encourages people to keep their eyes out for anything that might be happening downtown in Festival Park. 

Beaulah Vaz

Dr. Beaulah Vaz, originally from Mumbai, India, received her medical training at Lincoln Memorial University DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicne in Harrogate, Tennesse, as did Dr. Jessica Elliott from Lebnan, Virginia. Both of these residents are in the transitional year program, cycling through the residencies to see what interests them most.

Vaz, whose husband is a Navy reservist still residing in California with their daughter will soon be moving to town. Vaz been living in Fayetteville since June and she mentioned the “exceptionally kind” people. She discovered Bombay Bistro off of Cliffdale Road and truly enjoyed the food. “It’s also so nice to support local, mom-and-pop business.”

Elliott agrees. “I really like the area and I like the people. People have been amazing. They’re very welcoming.” As for Elliott, it didn’t take her long to discover a local gem. “I really love Prik Thai.” She usually gets pad thai (medium hot, she notes) and she has become such a regular she says with a smile, “They know me there.” As a busy resident, she appreciates that one meal can last her two nights.   

Both Vaz and Elliott marvel at the cost of living, but it isn’t the only reason that this residency program appealed to them. .

“North Carolina is close to my heart,” Elliott said. She mentions her undergraduate degree from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Vaz was eager to come to Fayetteville. “We are a military family,” she said, saying that where there is a military installation, people look out for each other.

Elliott’s advice for succeeding in a residency program: “Sleep when you can. Eat when you can. Never forget to take time for yourself.” She recharges by swimming and watching YouTube, though the swimming can be difficult when she is on-call.

Vaz credits eating healthy, hiking at Raven Rock State Park, and remembering to exercise. With regards to her current rotation in Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) surgery, she said, “I think yesterday I sat down once.” Vaz is the second person in her family to go to college. She made sure to send a photo of her in her long white coat to her family via WhatsApp.

Ryan Pursley

This Campbell University medical graduate came to Fayetteville by way of Los Angeles. He was in the inaugural class of medical students at Campbell and now, as part of the inaugural class of residents, he says that the camaraderie of being in inaugural programs is tight. “We look out for each other. There are stronger bonds.”

He enjoys exploring the strong ethnic food scene in Fayetteville, finding Saigon Bistro, Taste of West Africa, local Vietnamese food, and Ethiopian food to be his recommendations.

He loves exploring the Cape Fear River Trail, he said, and thinks he wants to be matched up with Pathology. “People are sicker down here,” he said.

When asked if he’s going to stay after he finishes his residency, he nods.

 “My goal is to say. I want to set up roots and grow my patient relationships here.”


That’s what we want. So, in our minds, this program is already a success.

To learn more about Residency Program visit capefearvalley.com/residency.