State-Funded Rural Training Provides More Doctors in Underserved WNC Counties

August 30, 2017

State-Funded Rural Training Provides More Doctors in Underserved WNC Counties



Jennifer Maurer                                                                   Sarah Thach

External Communications Manager                                  Director of Clinical and Community Outreach for MAHEC                                     
828-257-4445                                                                  828-771-3426                                                                     


Asheville, NC – August 29, 2017

Five MAHEC Family Medicine Residency graduates are currently participating in yearlong fellowships through MAHEC in rural locations, where they plan to stay and practice upon completion.

Paulette Doiron, MD, and Kelly Garcia, MD, began their Maternal Child Health Fellowships at Haywood Health Center in Waynesville this past July. Winona Houser, MD, started her Rural Family Medicine Fellowship at Cherokee Indian Hospital in early August. Jessica White, MD, will begin her Rural Family Medicine Fellowship on September 4 and will see patients at Celo Health Center in Yancey County and Bakersville Community Health Center sites in Spruce Pine and Bakersville in Mitchell County. Robyn Restrepo, MD, also a Rural Family Medicine Fellow, began practicing in Highlands on August 21, 2017.

These fellowships, which will result in ongoing employment, are being provided by MAHEC thanks to North Carolina state appropriation funding for the expansion of its rural health initiatives to address the shortage of primary care physicians in WNC.

According to research that will be published in an upcoming issue of Academic Medicine, rural fellowships like these are part of a multi-pronged strategy necessary to recruit and retain physicians in medically underserved rural areas.

All five residents share a desire to help people in rural communities. The comprehensive training they received during their residencies at MAHEC has provided them with the skills to provide care for all ages in areas without all the resources available in bigger cities.

“When you’re out in the rural community, not only do you not have immediate access to specialty care, or even things like imaging that you have here, but you also have patients who just frankly will not go into the city to get anything done,” says White. “So you have to be able to do it, and I feel like MAHEC has done a really good job of preparing me for that ability.”

“The fellowships give these new physicians additional training in rural medicine and a continued connection to the MAHEC residency program so they don’t feel like they’re completely out on their own,” says Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, their Fellowship Advisor. “During this next year, our fellows will continue to develop specialized skills to better serve their communities and empower them to be leaders in their practices.”

All the fellows feel prepared to practice in rural areas and look forward to serving the entire population. However, what they are most looking forward to are the relationships they’ll be building with their patients and providing the best care they can.

“I think there are definitely challenges in rural medicine, but I think there are rewards as well,” says Doiron. “You’re more connected with rural patients, at least from what I’ve seen. You’re their ‘family doctor.’”

For more information about MAHEC’s Rural Health Initiative, please visit  

MAHEC was established in 1974 and is a leader in healthcare, education and innovation. Located in Asheville, MAHEC serves a 16-county region in Western North Carolina. It is the largest Area Health Education Center in North Carolina, which evolved to address national and state concerns with the supply, retention and quality of health professionals. MAHEC’s mission is to train the next generation of healthcare professionals for Western North Carolina through quality healthcare, innovative education, and best practice models that can be replicated nationally. For more information on MAHEC, visit

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