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The Kenan Primary Care Medical Scholars program honored its current students and celebrated 10 years of serving rural and urban communities across North Carolina with a reception Tuesday evening at the N.C. Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. Cristy Page, MD, MPH, Executive Dean of the UNC School of Medicine, Nate Thomas, PhD, Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Meredith Bazemore, Director of the Office of Rural Initiatives, addressed the group to mark a decade of service for the Kenan Scholars Program.

Kenan Scholars with Mr. Tom Kenan at a reception on April 26, 2022
The current group of Kenan Scholars along with Mr. Tom Kenan (photo by Steve Exum)

Guests also heard from Kenan Scholars Kelli Avalos and Caleb Smith as well as Mr. Tom Kenan of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, which worked to establish the program in 2013. After beginning with just a single cohort in Asheville that year, the Kenan Scholars program will add its fourth rural cohort in Greensboro in 2022, joining the Raleigh urban cohort that operates in partnership with WakeMed.

Dr. Robert Bashford, former associate dean for rural initiatives and associate dean for admissions at the School of Medicine who was instrumental in the creation of the Kenan Scholars program before his death in late 2019, was also in the hearts and minds of those in attendance.

“We deeply miss Dr. Bashford, but events like tonight are such a special way to remember and to honor him,” Page said. “He had a personal relationship with probably every student to come through the Kenan Program, students on what he liked to call ‘the journey for a life of science and service.'”

The reception was a welcome chance for students, faculty, staff and supporters to come together in person to celebrate what the program has meant to so many over the past decade.

According to Avalos, who has worked alongside Rasheeda Monroe, MD, Faculty Director, Kenan Urban Scholars Program, in the Raleigh urban cohort, the program is as much about service as it is about medicine.

“What I actually came here to learn was how to serve my community,” Avalos said. “Under the tutelage of Dr. Monroe and Meredith Bazemore, we really have the support and infrastructure to get on the ground, get into our community and learn how we can step forward to be the best doctors we can be.”

Smith, who will be continuing his medical journey with the Department of Family Medicine at UNC, echoed his classmate’s enthusiasm for the program’s family atmosphere.

“Growing up on a farm, I never imagined myself at the UNC School of Medicine,” Smith said. “From day one, the Kenan Program always made me feel at home. I never felt out of place, I always felt like I had a family here. It made me feel like I belong, and that’s something I’m really grateful for.”

“The pipeline is so strong,” Smith added. “Everyone here has put in so much work over the last 10 years, and North Carolina’s health will benefit from it – not just in the backyard of academic centers, but in every corner of the state. That is a testament to the Kenan Program and all the hard work and effort that everyone has put in.”

The evening closed with Mr. Kenan expressing his joy and admiration for all those who have made this program possible, as well as his continuing gratitude for those who help support the Kenan Scholars.

“Education, especially medical education, is not inexpensive, but it’s worth every penny,” Kenan said. “It’s been a privilege – we are so proud of our students and what they do. We want this program to grow and grow and grow.”

For more information on the Kenan Primary Care Medical Scholars program and how to support rural and urban healthcare in our state, please contact Jeanine Simmons, Senior Executive Director of Development, Medical Education and Alumni, at

One Response to “Kenan Primary Care Scholars Program Celebrates Ten Years”

  1. Winston Liao

    Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Thank you to Dr. Robert Bashford and Mr. Tom Kenan for their foresight and generosity. Thank you to the students who will contribute their knowledge, skills, and experiences to fulfill the mission of this program.

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