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UNC School of Medicine takes first in graduate school primary care program rankings

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Photo by Alex Kormann

In a move from second place last year, the UNC School of Medicine was ranked first for their primary care program in U.S. News and World Report’s 2019 “Best Graduate Schools.” 

Many other UNC graduate schools achieved high rankings, including the School of Social Work, School of Nursing and the Kenan-Flagler Business School. But no other graduate school rose to the top as the School of Medicine did in the U.S. News ranking.

U.S. News ranked graduate schools based on both expert opinion on program excellence and statistical indicators of quality. The School of Medicine stands out from other universities for its individualization of students’ educations, said Cristy Page, chairperson of the department of family medicine.

“The unique aspect of UNC's School of Medicine is that we have a number of pathways that allow students to individualize their medical school training, and so students interested in primary care have multiple options to grow and develop the skills that they need to be successful in the future as future primary care physicians,” Page said.

Julie Byerley, the vice dean for education and chief education officer in the School of Medicine, believes the ranking recognizes the school’s role in addressing the rural primary care workforce shortage with pipeline programs such as the FIRST (Fully Integrated Readiness for Service Training) track. FIRST is a three-year fast-track program into a UNC Family Medicine residency with a subsequent three years of service in North Carolina, which helps to create doctors who become an important part of their communities.

“That’s who we are at UNC,” Byerley said. “We are making real doctors on the ground in North Carolina that become pillars of their communities and leaders. And then we also are producing amazingly talented researchers who shape the science being done in our country. To have both of those things happen at the same institution means every learner here is stimulated to fulfill their potential.”

As learners come to the University, the high ranking reflects well on the future of the School of Medicine’s caliber of students, Page said. 

“As we're ranked number one, it attracts the highest quality students, and the high quality students go on to be high quality doctors and that reflects well on the school,” Page said. “It's a beautiful cycle.”

Even with a number one ranking, there is still work to be done for Phil Sloane, associate chairperson of the department of family medicine.

“We would love to change the healthcare system so that healthcare is more accessible to everybody,” Sloane said. “We would love to have more of an emphasis on prevention in both healthcare and healthcare payment than there is today because the healthcare system is still skewed towards fixing things but not preventing things.”

For Byerley’s future goals at the School of Medicine, the focus is on sustainability of the healthcare workforce and maintaining future and current doctors’ wellness and optimism. The top ranking inspires Byerley to continue that stride.

“We're proud of it in a way that always at Carolina we are,” Byerley said. “We care at Carolina to be rather than to seem. While we're proud of this ranking, it just challenges us further to improve and to make sure that we are genuine in our efforts to be the nation's leading academic public medical center and medical school. It's not only something that we're proud of, we're inspired by it.”

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