Former Kenan Primary Care Medical Scholar, Travis Williams ’20 (MD) talks with a patient during his placement at MAHEC in Asheville, North Carolina (Photo by Jeyhoun Allebaugh)
Founded in 2013 with a mission to serve North Carolina communities facing growing disparities in health care, the Kenan Primary Care Medical Scholars program has become a critical resource for vulnerable populations across the state.
As hospitals in rural areas close in alarming numbers and those in urban areas struggle to serve their populations, patients are relying more heavily on their primary care providers — a limited resource. Fewer physicians are choosing to specialize in primary care and only a small percentage are drawn to serve in the rural and underserved urban locales where they are needed most.
Through the Kenan Primary Care Medical Scholars program, the UNC School of Medicine seeks to provide a solution by increasing patient care resources while creating a new generation of health care providers with ties to underserved communities.
Current Kenan Scholar, Charlene Brown, and Rasheeda Monroe, MD, faculty director of the Kenan Urban Scholars Program (Photo by Steve Exum)
For Kenan Scholars like Kelli Avalos, who has worked in the Raleigh urban cohort alongside Rasheeda Monroe, MD, faculty director of the Kenan Urban Scholars Program, the experience is as much about service as it is about medicine.
“What I actually came here to learn was how to serve my community,” Avalos said. “Under the tutelage of Dr. Monroe and Meredith Bazemore, we really have the support and infrastructure to get on the ground, get into our community and learn how we can step forward to be the best doctors we can be.”
Caleb Smith ’22 (MD), a Kenan Scholar who will continue his medical journey with the UNC Department of Family Medicine, echoed his classmate’s enthusiasm for the program’s family atmosphere.
“Growing up on a farm, I never imagined myself at the UNC School of Medicine,” Smith said. “From day one, the Kenan Program always made me feel at home. I never felt out of place, I always felt like I had a family here. It made me feel like I belong, and that’s something I’m really grateful for.”
Smith sees limitless potential for the program’s impact on the state. “The pipeline is so strong. Everyone here has put in so much work over the last 10 years, and North Carolina’s health will benefit from it — not just in the backyard of academic centers, but in every corner of the state. That is a testament to the Kenan Program and all the hard work and effort that everyone has put in.”
After beginning with just a single cohort in Asheville nearly a decade ago, the Kenan Scholars program has continued to expand, adding its fourth rural cohort in Greensboro this year, joining the Raleigh urban cohort that operates in partnership with WakeMed.
The current Kenan Scholars cohort with Tom Kenan of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust
Tom Kenan of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, who worked alongside the UNC School of Medicine and Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) to establish the Kenan Scholars program, continues to show great admiration and gratitude for all who have made this program possible.
“Education, especially medical education, is not inexpensive, but it’s worth every penny,” Kenan said. “It’s been a privilege — we are so proud of our students and what they do. We want this program to grow and grow and grow.”