Building Trust and Training Physicians in Rural NC Communities

By Lindsay Key

Growing up in a small town in the heart of South Carolina, Anthony Viera, MD, MPH, knew from an early age exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up: a country doctor. Bamberg, South Carolina, has a population just a little over 3,000, and those who aren’t related are at least acquainted.

“As a boy growing up in a rural community, I set my heart on becoming a simple country doctor; that was the kind of doctor who I had seen in my community, who was really inspirational to me,” said Viera, professor and chair of Duke’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. “And complementing that was my fascination with TV’s country doctors of the time — like Dr. Baker from ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and Bones from ‘Star Trek.’ I really admired their commitment to care for the folks in their community, wherever that happened to be.”

Although Viera now lives in the bustling Triangle region of North Carolina — hardly a small town — and works in a major academic medical center, he gets to fulfill his dream in another way: by equipping young physicians in his department with the skills and training needed to practice in rural areas. The Department of Family Medicine and Community Health’s new Rural Training Track of the Family Medicine Residency places residents in rural communities in North Carolina during the second and third years of their training, allowing them to experience firsthand some of the challenges and opportunities of rural medicine.

Anthony Viera
Anthony Viera, MD, MPH

The placement helps residents to fully “spread their wings” as physicians, performing procedures and making medical diagnoses or performing procedures that might be referred to a specialist in a more urban environment. They learn firsthand the issues that people living in rural communities can face, such as social isolation, limited opportunity, and a lower socio-economic status. But they also learn about the joys of small-town life: less traffic, a slower pace, blissful moments of calm and quiet, and knowing and caring for your neighbor.

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