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ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University celebrated the graduation of the first ever cohort of resident physicians in the Rural Family Medicine Residency Program Sunday, before officially welcoming the latest class of resident physicians into the newly expanded program today.

The occasions mark two important milestones in a program uniquely designed to help meet the academic rural health mission, the health system and school said.

Launched in 2021, the Rural Family Medicine Residency Program provides recent medical school graduates interested in serving as family medicine physicians in rural communities first-hand experience in caring for patients in the kind of under-served settings they plan to practice upon completion of their residency training.

The inaugural class of Rural Family Medicine Residency Program graduates and their plans for practicing are as follows:

Dr. Jim Jaralene Porquez will start a new family medicine outpatient practice located in the ECU Health Multispecialty Clinic — Kenansville and provide hospitalist coverage at ECU Health Duplin Hospital.

Dr. Zeel Shah will serve as a hospitalist at ECU Health Beaufort Hospital and will also provide precepting to resident physicians at Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center.

Dr. Raza Syed will join a sports medicine fellowship program in Spokane, Washington, with plans to return to North Carolina after his one-year fellowship commitment to start practice.

Dr. Amy White Jones will move to rural western Minnesota to practice outpatient medicine at Sanford Health System.

“I could not be more proud of the four inaugural graduates from the ECU Health Rural Family Medicine Residency Program who have all embraced the rural mission and helped pioneer this important program,” said Dr. Audy Whitman, program director of the Rural Family Medicine Residency Program. “Each of these physicians have a passion for serving rural communities and have embraced the challenge of providing care in areas where their services are critically needed. Their unique training has given them a unique understanding of how to deliver high-quality primary care in rural environments and I take immense pride in knowing they will have an incredible impact in the communities in which they will soon practice.”

Despite rural communities representing nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population, only 10 percent of U.S. physicians practice in rural areas. 

The ECU Health Rural Family Medicine Residency Program aims to increase the number of physicians practicing in rural America, especially eastern North Carolina. 

Studies show that family medicine resident physicians who spent 50 percent or more of their training time in rural settings were at least five times more likely than resident physicians with no rural training to practice in a rural setting.

The program exposes resident physicians to the breadth of family medicine — in both an academic medical center environment and in rural environments — so they are well-prepared to provide comprehensive care in a variety of practice settings. 

The resident physicians spend a majority of their first year of training at ECU Health Medical Center in Greenville before spending the next two years training at a regional location where they build connections with their patients and become integrated into the communities they serve.

The Rural Family Medicine Residency Program also received recent approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to expand its class size and add an additional training site location, bringing the program to nine residents per class across three sites: in Ahoskie at the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center and ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital; in Duplin County at Goshen Medical Center in Beulaville and ECU Health Duplin Hospital in Kenansville; and in Roanoke Rapids at Rural Health Group Halifax Medical Specialists and ECU Health North Hospital, which is the newest training site in the program.

The newest Rural Family Medicine Residency Program class includes:

Dr. Flora Danquah, Ahoskie Site

Dr. Dan Pham, Ahoskie Site

Dr. Daima Shawl, Ahoskie Site

Dr. Andrew Mancheno-Rubio, Duplin Site

Dr. Shelley Matthews, Duplin Site

Dr. Jaya Purathur, Duplin site

Dr. Tanweer Hoosen, Roanoke Rapids Site

Dr. Tobi Okafor, Roanoke Rapids Site

Dr. Joy Onyeanun, Roanoke Rapids Site

“This is an exciting time at ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine as we are truly charting the future of rural academic health care in the spirit of the shared mission to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of ECU Health and dean of Brody. “When resident physicians practice and train in rural communities, they develop an intimate appreciation for the importance of rural health care. The program’s continued growth is a testament to all who have worked hard to make the Rural Family Medicine Residency Program a reality and it is humbling to know our organization is making a profound impact on rural communities through these innovative efforts.”