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Record number of med students begin journey at Brody

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Tijesuni Babalola looks down at his white coat as he adjusts it, while on stage during the White Coat Ceremony, at the ECU Health Sciences Student Center, Friday morning.

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By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, August 4, 2018

It all starts with a white coat.

Beginning their medical school journey, 86 incoming students from the Brody School of Medicine were formally presented with the coats they will wear in patient care areas throughout their time at East Carolina University.

A crowd of 400 friends and family members displayed their pride during Friday’s ceremony at the new Allied Health Sciences Student Center. 

“It’s been a long journey for our son, but we are so happy and proud of him today,” said Michael Babalola of Harrisburg, whose son, Tijesuni, will study family medicine, with an eye on sports medicine. “He has been planning for this day since middle school.”

The white coat is a visual communication of society’s belief in health care providers’ professional interest in their patients, attendees were told in their guest brochures. It is meant to convey a sense of seriousness, competence and compassion to even the most anxious patients.

About 20 percent of all North Carolina doctors are Brody graduates. The medical school is one of the top 10 institutions in the nation for preparing family doctors by the American Academy of Family physicians. About 42 percent of Brody graduates practice primary care, and one in six family physicians practicing in North Carolina is a Brody graduate, school officials said.

All 86 students selected from a pool of 1,074 applicants — the largest and most diverse class in the school’s history — are North Carolina residents, representing 32 counties and 26 undergraduate institutions, according to information shared by the school. The class of 2022 is 55 percent female and 45 percent male, with ages ranging from 21 to 44, with the average age being 25.

“Because of this mix, we now have the ability to reach out to our own students to help us understand new languages, new customs, get new understandings or fix misunderstandings about what we do as medical doctors,” Dr. Claudia Daly, president of the Brody School of Medicine Alumni Society, told the students. “This class will be better prepared than any class we have ever had to care for the citizens of North Carolina.”

Ke’Asia Craig, an African-American student from Ahoskie, said that the diversity of this year’s class was particularly meaningful for her.

“I feel that by training diverse physicians, we’re better able to treat diverse patients,” Craig said. “You’re able to treat a population that you might not have been able to treat as well before, just because people are more comfortable with people they can relate to.”

Dr. Mark Stacy, Brody dean, said he is pleased with the face of this year’s entry, describing it as the right direction toward minority representation.

“We are at 33 percent of underrepresented minority students, about halfway to where we need to be,” Stacy said.

The dean talked to the students about their sense of belonging at ECU.

“Inclusion is something I can do when inviting them to Brody, but belonging is something we both have to do,” he said. “This is the start of all that, which is why I get excited about today.” 

This year’s class represents the future of health care and will focus during the next four years on ECU’s new approach to delivering health care in rural North Carolina, Stacy said.

“These students will have to exist in a world that will be remarkably different than the one I grew up in,” he said. “I want to work with our students and faculty to learn how we can rebuild and re-engineer the work stream to provide improved health to people in poverty, then we can teach people across the world how to do it.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker — Dr. Toni Johnson, vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Brody — told the students that their experiences in medical school will change them in ways they never would have imagined.

“You’ll have an opportunity to actually become a better person along the journey. Don’t waste this unique experience,” Johnson said. “Yes, you’re on your way to becoming a physician. The white coat is a symbol of our profession; wear it with pride. More importantly, it’s a cloak of compassion. So every time you put it on, please remember … it is a privilege to see what we see, it is a privilege to hear what we hear and it is a privilege to do what we do.”

The first 20 months of medical school at Brody are classroom-based and encompass foundational sciences including core science coursework, bioethics and an introduction to doctoring, which features clinic-based primary care experience. Year three consists of a series of predetermined clinical clerkships, and the fourth year allows for more individualized clinical experiences. Much of the clinical training occurs away from Brody in rural health care settings across eastern North Carolina.

Chip and Amber Camp of Shelby watched their son, Tripp, an ECU undergraduate, receive his white coat and get ready to learn primary care.

“It says a lot about Tripp’s heart that this is the area of medicine he wants to practice,” Chip Camp said. “We want him to be happy and fulfilled in what he does, and we believe Brody will provide him the opportunity for that.”

Amber Camp said her son is aware of the hard work that lies ahead.

“He realizes the challenges of the next four years, and I think he is up for them and excited about the possibilities for his future,” she said.

ECU News Services contributed to this report.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

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