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Novant Health, UNC and military to launch psychiatric residency program to train more physicians in coastal North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Novant Health, together with UNC Health, UNC School of Medicine and Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune, is launching a new psychiatric residency program to train more physicians in southeastern North Carolina and boost the pipeline of much-needed mental health physicians.

The initial class of seven psychiatric residents will begin the four-year program in June 2024. The class will include both military and civilian physicians, who will conduct clinical rotations at both Novant Health New Hanover Medical Center in Wilmington and Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.

"We are thrilled that our organizations are able to move forward combining forces for this vital opportunity to train more psychiatrists," said Dr. Joe Pino, senior vice president of medical education for Novant Health. "This new residency will help increase the number of physicians in southeastern North Carolina and serving in the armed forces."

The partnership ensures the psychiatric residents will have training opportunities caring for a variety of patients, including individuals serving in the military, providing firsthand experiences treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

“Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune greatly values the cooperative partnership we have established with Novant Health New Hanover Medical Center over many years," said U.S. Navy Captain Kevin Brown, director of Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune. "The launch of our combined psychiatry program will enable us to bring needed care to the residents of southeastern North Carolina and to our military beneficiaries who serve to protect our nation’s security around the globe.”

The residency program will also help boost the numbers of psychiatrists as projections call for staggering shortages nationwide. The shortage of psychiatrists, physicians who have a medical degree and advanced training in mental health disorders and substance use disorders, is occurring despite a growing acknowledgment by a majority of the public and advocacy groups of a nationwide mental health crisis impacting both adults and young people. Related topics such as the ongoing opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on mental health are also frequently discussed.

"Boosting the numbers of psychiatrists and other trained mental health providers is key to turning the tide on these challenges," said Dr. Samuel Pullen, a psychiatrist and system physician executive for Novant Health's Psychiatry & Mental Health Institute. "We must increase the numbers of mental health providers so that we can ensure timely access to care is available in all communities we serve."

One 2022 study that evaluated access to mental health care nationwide ranked North Carolina in the bottom third, along with other southern states. Rural areas, in particular, struggle with reduced numbers of mental health providers and services.

“We know untreated mental illness leads to multiple bad outcomes, ranging from reduced quality of life and problems at work and home to substance use, overdoses, homelessness, imprisonment and suicide," said Dr. Julia Triggs, a Wilmington-based psychiatrist with Novant Health who has helped lead planning efforts for the residency.

Novant Health recently secured the necessary approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to formally move forward to complete the steps needed to launch the residency program in June 2024.

"I am grateful and proud to contribute to the development and implementation of this important project," said Dr. Jonny Gerkin, associate clinical professor with the UNC Department of Psychiatry. "Working with the psychiatrists of Novant Health and Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune to increase access to expert care for North Carolinians and within our military community represents some of the most meaningful I have done as a career clinician-educator and consultant. UNC Health and the UNC Department of Psychiatry look forward to an ongoing collaboration to achieve and maintain high fidelity, innovative, and contextually effective psychiatry training."

In Wilmington, Novant Health already operates medical residency programs for the following specialties: family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and general surgery. In addition to the new psychiatric residency, Novant Health will launch a new rural track of our family medicine residency program in July 2024 in partnership with UNC School of Medicine, Novant Health Pender Medical Center and Black River Health Services.

Posted on Monday, May 22, 2023