Health and Medicine

Meeting biomedical and health challenges of the state

The UNC School of Medicine is dedicated to improving the lives of all North Carolinians.

The UNC School of Medicine began 140 years ago with a two-year curriculum, born in the spirit of service that still guides our work today. Dr. Thomas W. Harris, our first dean, introduced students to clinical medicine and surgery through the free clinics he established in the Chapel Hill community. There were 37 medical students.

That teaching model has continued to flourish over the generations. In fact, in 2017 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our Student Health Action Coalition clinic, the nation’s oldest student-run free clinic. We support this because they believe in our public mission to improve the health and well-being of all North Carolinians.

Our diverse student body now includes more than 1,200 graduate and medical students at four campuses in Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Asheville and Charlotte, with robust teaching sites in Greensboro and Raleigh as well. We attract the finest students from around the country, and about 40 percent of each graduating class of medical doctors stays in North Carolina for their residencies. We are ranked first in primary care education, and our research endeavor is ranked 6th among peer public universities in the United States.

Although we are proud of our history and evolution into one of the top medical schools in the country, we also know that the health care environment has been rapidly changing, which is why we developed our Translational Education at Carolina (TEC) curriculum to provide a more student-centric, patient-based way of learning.

Established in 2014, TEC integrates the use of simulation models, technology and training in collaborative ways similar to the team care found in clinics and hospitals. With TEC, our professors and staff introduce students to clinical work immediately, instead of waiting until year three of medical school. Upon graduation, our medical students have a superb clinical foundation with robust leadership skills and a deeply ingrained spirit of professionalism, ethics, humanism and service.

In 2022, our students will receive much of their training in a new, state-of-the-art medical education building, an eight-floor facility that will include a large active learning theater, flexible labs, learning and study spaces designed to heighten collaboration, and two floors dedicated to developing clinical skills through simulated learning. With this new building, we will be able to expand our class size from 190 to 240 students, helping us meet the increasing demand for physicians across North Carolina.

That demand includes doctors and physician assistants who answer the call to provide top-of-the-line care in the 80 North Carolina Counties we consider rural. UNC SOM offers a number of training programs in rural health, including the Kenan Scholars Program and the Fully Integrated Readiness for Service Training (FIRST) Program, in which select students complete their MD in three years and — if they remain in good standing — are guaranteed admission into the UNC Family Medicine Residency Program, which is ranked second in the nation. FIRST scholars commit to three years of service in rural/underserved North Carolina after completing their residency training.

The UNC School of Medicine benefits greatly from our close relationship with the multi-hospital UNC Health Care system, whose mission is to promote the health and well-being of the people of North Carolina. UNC Health Care announced in 2018 a $10-million investment over five years in The Program for Precision Medicine in Health Care. This program will interface with efforts across the school to translate genomic technologies and data analytics into clinical care for patients, including diagnostic sequencing, developing more targeted therapies in cancer and pharmacogenomics – the ability to parse the effects of specific medications on patients due to their genetics before they begin treatment. We know this effort will improve health outcomes for patients across North Carolina.

Precision medicine, one of our core strategic initiatives, would be impossible without our innovative clinical and basic science researchers, who — along with our postdoctoral fellows and first-rate graduate students — make the UNC School of Medicine an internationally respected and top-rated research institution. All of our basic science departments are ranked in the top 10 for research funding, which allows our scientists to attract top graduate students to investigate the most pertinent biomedical research questions of our time. We have research strengths throughout the SOM in cancer, infectious diseases and immunology and global health.

Our innovative researchers are creating new ways to develop better pain treatments to address the opioid epidemic. They spearheaded clinical trials that led to the first-ever FDA-approved treatment for postpartum depression. They have delineated different subtypes of breast cancer that can be now be treated more effectively with various treatments. They led incredibly innovative research for diagnosing autism earlier than ever before. And they have laid the foundation for better preventive measures and treatments for HIV; asthma and pulmonary conditions; allergies; cancers; GI conditions; heart and kidney diseases; neurodevelopmental and neurological conditions; and host of many other health problems, including rare “orphan” diseases.

Our faculty and students know we work at an inclusive place that fosters a sense of belonging, where we cherish collaboration because we see every day how it accelerates research and leads to better care. This is true not only within our UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Medical Center, but across the university at the top-ranked schools of pharmacy, public health, dentistry, social work and nursing, all of which are within one block on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

When we look to the future, we know our diverse and collaborative environment will allow us to meet the biomedical and health challenges with the same spirit of service and innovation, empathy and expertise that founded our school of medicine and this great university.