Methodist University and Cape Fear Valley Health are partnering to open a four-year medical school that will welcome students in July 2026.
The Center for Medical Education and Neuroscience at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center will house the new medical school with a focus on providing better medical care for rural and underserved populations and diversifying the physician workforce in the area, officials said Feb. 27 at a news conference to announce the initiative.
Methodist University President Stanley T. Wearden said the partnership fits perfectly with the university’s service-oriented mission and Cape Fear Valley Health’s long-standing history of health care.
“A medical school will be a tremendous asset to Fayetteville, Cumberland County and the region,” said Wearden.
He said Fayetteville is positioned to attract health care professionals in new areas of specialization.
“While we have many excellent health care professionals in this community, we nonetheless have a shortage, which is a microcosm of a national shortage.
There's a tremendous need, and we are in the prime spot to meet it,” said Wearden.
Wearden said a national shortage of health care workers is predicted by 2034 and that to meet the need, 30 to 40 medical schools would need to open.
“This partnership is a tremendous opportunity for our institution to engage with Cape Fear Valley Health to address the shortage of health care professionals, particularly in rural areas, and to improve the quality of health care delivery, which will enrich the local community and beyond,” said Wearden.
In addition, he said, a new medical school will attract businesses, taxpayers and homebuyers to the region.
“It will elevate the economic well-being of this region,” said Wearden.
He said a study commissioned by the hospital found that a new medical school could bring more than $750 million in economic impact to the community in the first 10 years.
“If you add that to the $88.5 million annual economic impact that Methodist University already brings, that will be a powerful economic stimulus. We are the right partners,” said Wearden.
Cape Fear Valley CEO Michael Nagowski said the health system could not be prouder than to partner with Methodist University.
Nagowski said the university educates nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and others who take jobs at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.
With this partnership, that long-standing history will not only continue but expand.
Nagowski said the medical school also is important to the wellness of the community, addressing the physician shortage and providing an economic engine to make the region a better place to live.
“The data is very clear. Wherever there are academic medical centers partnering with universities, the overall health of the population continues to improve,” said Nagowski. “This will also make Cape Fear Valley a better hospital than it is today, whether it be with our 350 residents, our almost 120 students already completing their third- and fourth-year programs, and now a full-fledged four-year medical school right here in Fayetteville. We will provide an outstanding medical school.”
Nagowski recognized Dr. Rakesh Gupta as a link between the two organizations. Gupta is chairman of the Methodist University board of trustees and a former chairman of the Cape Fear Valley Hospital board.
Gupta said the new medical school will be transformational.
“This will be a change of trajectory for all students in all spheres of education at Methodist, for students who at large come to this community from all over the country. We will remember this day for a long time to come,” said Gupta. “This will truly put us on the map.”
Several city and county elected officials at the news conference said they are excited about what this means to the community.
City Councilwoman Kathy Jensen, who represents the district in North Fayetteville that includes Methodist University, said she is ready to see green and gold — the university’s colors — spread throughout the city.
“It’s going to be great to see green and gold not just on the north side of town but expanded. The regional collaboration is great for not just Methodist University but [a] transformation for our city and county,” said Jensen.
Cumberland County Commissioner Marshall Faircloth, who served as chairman of the medical school subcommittee, said the plan is an economic boost.
“This will be the game changer we have been looking for over the next seven to eight years as it builds out. It will have great implications for our future. In one of the communities I visited, when the medical school came in, the economy took off,” said Faircloth.
Dr. Hershey Bell, vice president of the medical education program at Cape Fear Valley Health, agreed.
Bell said before the news conference that he has been working to get the pieces of the puzzle together and get the medical school ready for accreditation.
“When a medical school comes to town, it transforms the community in a way that you can never go back to before and it’s only for the better for everyone. Economically, for patient care, for the quality of education, it’s an amazing way for us to make a statement to the people of this community that great things are coming,” said Bell.
The medical school hopes to enroll 80 students in the first class and expand to 120 students over time. Classes will begin in 2026 pending approval by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Dr. Stanley T. Wearden, president of Methodist University (right) and Mike Nagowski, CEO of Cape Fear Valley Health, spoke at a press conference in the McLean Health Sciences Building at Methodist University to announce a partnership to open a new medical school. (Photo courtesy Methodist University Marketing & Communications)