A new Medical Hematology and Oncology Clinic offering diagnosis and treatment of cancer and blood disorders opened Monday at Wake Forest Baptist-Wilkes Medical Center in North Wilkesboro.
The 7,000-square-foot clinic is part of a Wake Forest Baptist Health program designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center network by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It’s the only program in western North Carolina with this designation and one of 51 nationwide.
Wake Forest Baptist Health invested $6 million in renovating a portion of the local hospital’s administrative office area on the first floor to establish the clinic. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“By bringing these new services to our area, we are continuing our commitment to expanding access to convenient, high-quality health care so more patients can remain closer to home,” said Chad Brown, president of Wilkes Medical Center.
“By being part of Wake Forest Baptist Health, our hematology and oncology team is directly connected with the experts in radiation, gynecologic and surgical oncology to ensure we offer a multidisciplinary approach for our patients with all types of cancer, from the most common to the very rare," Brown added.
The new clinic is staffed fulltime by Dr. James N. Atkins, board-certified in oncology and internal medicine; Erica Shore, family nurse practitioner; Michelle Kennedy, nurse manager; Leah Miller and Beth Brondos, ambulatory registered nurses; and Tara Perry, licensed practical nurse.
Atkins said the clinic will make excellent quality care and the latest treatments available locally for more common types of cancer and blood disorders, which he said is important for quality of life for people dealing with these conditions because it reduces travel time and keeps them closer to their support networks.
For diagnosis and treatment of cancer and benign and malignant blood disorders, the new clinic offers mammography services, laboratory services and chemotherapy infusion – all onsite.
It also offers PET (molecular) imaging, which provides a different view of cancer in addition to what is provided by two CAT scans and an MRI unit already at the hospital.
Atkins said that when he begins patient consultations, he likes to audio record the initial patient visit (with patient permission) and give a copy of the recording to the patient. He said this helps the patient and family members absorb everything said.
Some conditions such as acute leukemia requiring the resources of a facility like Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem won’t be treated at the new clinic, he said.
Atkins believes in a team approach to treating cancer and blood disorders and said the Wilkes medical oncology team will work with other Wake Forest Baptist Health radiation, gynecologic and surgical oncologists to provide a multidisciplinary approach for patients with all types of cancer.
Atkins is known for his work in clinical trials to help find new and better ways to treat cancer and said he will continue this at Wilkes Medical Center.
He is working with Wake Forest Baptist to determine the focus of cancer clinical trials at the new clinic and said patients here will have the opportunity to participate when it’s appropriate.
“Clinical trials represent the cutting edge of medicine. The standard of care today was a clinical trial five years ago,” said Atkins. With cancer, this includes developing drugs that only kill specific cells and drugs that cause the body’s immune system to attack specific cells, he explained.
“The whole of medicine is exploding with new and better ways to treat people,” he added.
Atkins is board-certified in oncology and internal medicine. After 33 years in private practice in Goldsboro, he worked in Richmond, Va., for about a year and a half before accepting a position with Wake Forest Baptist. He lives in Winston-Salem but will be at Wilkes Medical Center five days a week.
Atkins originally is from Amherst, Mass., and came to North Carolina to attend Wake Forest University’s Bowman Gray School of Medicine in 1972. He had his residency and other training at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and finished there in 1984.
In 2006, Atkins was presented the Harry Hynes Award from NCI and an award from the Association for Community Cancer Centers because of his commitment to clinical trials. He received the U.S. Public Health Service Medal of Commendation in 1986.
He was in charge of the Community Clinical Oncology Program, a nationwide effort developed by NCI and the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, for over 20 years. The program encourages participation in cancer-related clinical trials.
Atkins is a member of the American College of Physicians, Piedmont Oncology Association, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Southern Association for Oncology and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project, among others.
Shore said her decision to work in the new clinic was influenced by family members having cancer.
She is a Wilkes County native and resident, received a nursing degree from Winston-Salem State University and received a master of science in nursing degree from South University in Savannah, Ga., to become a nurse practitioner.
Shore’s nursing career was mostly in critical care and nephrology for seven years before she worked in primary care as a nurse practitioner. She trained at the main campus of Wake Forest Baptist and in Clemmons and Lexington in hematology/oncology prior to the opening of the Wilkes clinic.
These two clinics, the new clinic at Wilkes Medical Center and clinics in Elkin, Sparta, Mount Airy, Statesville, Hickory, Winston-Salem and Hendersonville are part of the Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center network.