GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — East Carolina University and Vidant Medical Center announced Wednesday they are joining forces to combine their physician practices.

Leaders of both Vidant Health and ECU signed a new integration that will join Vidant Medical Group and ECU Physicians locations throughout the East.

Vidant CEO Michael Waldrum says the merger will take some time and will happen gradually over the next couple of years

Waldrum says patients of both organizations will now have more locations in which they can seek services, and that he expects Medicare costs to go down as a result of shared resources.

Staton says the merger will allow for students of the Brody School of Medicine more opportunities to complete their clinical requirements locally.

“As we grow our enrollment, we look to see the wonderful advantages that will be there for our students because it is the practice plan that is the primary vehicle for providing that clinical experience for teaching our medical students,” Staton said.

As part of the agreement, Vidant will make an initial $34 million payment to ECU and an annual $14.45 million support payment to the Brody School of Medicine for the next 30 years.

The announcement will ultimately affect thousands throughout the East.

The organization is expected to begin operations in 2018.