New pregnancy and childbirth care options at AppFamily Medicine

In the Haut Pays, access to medical specialists is increasing. The Appalachian Regional Health System (ARHS) has recently added or enhanced services such as cardiology, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology, and more. This is a promising development. But as a result, the true role of the family practice (or primary care) provider may not be fully understood in today’s highly specialized and compartmentalized view of health care.

AppFamily Medicine aims to educate the community on their approach to treating the whole person and the whole family at every stage of life. And they are taking steps to create a true family practice from birth through childhood and throughout adulthood.

They established the practice and added full-service pediatric care and a same-day/walk-in clinic. The next phase of their approach is to establish an antenatal clinic and deliver at Watauga Medical Center.

A big step for women’s health

In 2008, Harmony Center for Women opened to create a central location for women’s health, including gynecology, obstetrics and midwifery – to give women several options for how they wanted receive care and to cover all levels of care, from routine to high-risk. Dr. Beverly Womack joined Harmony shortly after it opened and has provided women’s health care, prenatal care, childbirth and gynecological surgeries throughout her 20+ year career.

Shortly after Harmony’s inception, Watauga County’s population grew significantly, and today 25 percent more people live in the county than in 2008. The Appalachian Regional Health System estimates that the access to health care, especially for women, must follow the growth of the High Country.

“We have a lot of patients in our area who have never had proper access to care,” Dr. Womack said, “and it’s my passion to improve that.”

Meet the growing needs of the community

Enter the Mountain Area Boone Rural Family Medicine Center (MAHEC) Family Medicine Residency Program (residency program), which began at AppFamily Medicine and Watauga Medical Center in 2020. Family medicine residents are newly accredited physicians medical school graduates. They receive three years of additional training in six major medical areas – pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN), internal medicine, psychiatry and neurology, surgery, and community medicine. These young doctors will be the future of family medicine in the Upper Country and other rural areas.

First- and second-year residents of the MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program

To accomplish OB/GYN training for these junior doctors, AppFamily Medicine welcomes Dr. Womack as the Obstetrics and Gynecology Education Supervisor for the residency program.

She teaches and supervises family medicine residents who care for women and children in the High Country. Although she will no longer deliver babies with her own patients, she will assist resident physicians in obstetrics and childbirth.

Dr. Womack cherishes the “privilege of being with women in their most vulnerable, intimate, and important parts of their lives.” Now she can share that same passion and privilege with physicians in the early phase of their careers.

She sees patients 60% of the time for gynecology appointments, including well woman care, emerging or chronic conditions, and surgery. With the remaining 40% of her time, she will establish a prenatal clinic with the resident doctors.

“I had such a good experience with the residents,” said Dr. Womack. “The time I spent with them really rejuvenated my enthusiasm for what I do. It got me thinking about everything I’ve done so far. And that really made me start thinking about things that I wish I had known when I was a young doctor.

In the AppFamily Medicine Prenatal Clinic, residents under the direction of Dr. Womack will see women with low-risk pregnancies and manage labor and delivery at Watauga Medical Center.

Dr. Womack believes that having residents help her provide patient care “will make it better for all of us.”

Comprehensive health care for families

One of the main advantages of family practice is that mothers can choose the same doctor who delivered their baby for ongoing pediatric care. Dr. Charlie Baker, who has practiced in Avery County for over 40 years, is an excellent example of a well-rounded family physician. He cared for pregnant women, delivered babies, cared for them through childhood into adulthood – sometimes going full circle to deliver women he had helped to enter the world.

Looking to the future, Dr. Womack hopes to expand the times and places they can see patients, to reduce women’s burden and barriers to seeking care.

How to get treatment

  1. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and do not have a provider, call AppFamily Medicine at (828) 386-2222 or request an appointment online at apprhs.org/appointment. Let the planner know that you are interested in gynecology and/or prenatal care.
  2. AppFamily offers general health, gynecology, and family planning services for every stage of womanhood, whether you’re planning to start a family or not. Call today or request an appointment online to establish yourself with a provider who can help you with all of your healthcare decisions.

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