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Brody medical students partner with service organizations to address hunger

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Adrian Ambrose, Jamie, Hunter, and Natalie Ford, from left, pour soy, rice and dried vegetables into a bag.

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By ECU News Services

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Throughout their time at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine, medical students work with a variety of organizations to serve the community.

Before they graduate and head to residency programs across the country, the Brody Class of 2019 continued this tradition of service by partnering with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and Rise Against Hunger to combat hunger and food insecurity locally and globally.

On April 12, students worked in groups to package 20,000 meals that will be distributed around the world and sorted food donations at the regional food bank. This day of service culminated in a comprehensive learning session for students that addressed patient hunger and food insecurity, defined as limited or uncertain access to nutritious food options.

“There is a lot of need and health disparity here [in eastern North Carolina],” said Jessica Lee, a fourth-year student who will complete her residency in family medicine at Vidant Health. “A lot of people do have a problem getting access to food and I hadn’t seen that before coming here, and that’s the main reason I wanted to stay here to do my residency. I see how much I’m needed.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average rate of food insecurity nationally is 12.3%. In eastern North Carolina, the percentage of food insecure households is much higher, ranging from 20-29%.

The packaged meals will be labeled and tracked through Rise Against Hunger, an international nonprofit agency that distributes meals to impoverished communities around the world — often in Central and South America. Tracking labels will allow the agency and students to see the global impact of the food they helped distribute.

“Community service is integrated into our curriculum and into who we are throughout our entire time at Brody,” said fourth-year student Adrian Ambrose, whose residency will be in OB-GYN at Orlando Health in Florida. “You can look at the smiles on everyone’s faces in here today and see how everybody’s enjoying themselves. It’s who we are, and we love giving back.”

At the food bank, students sorted donated food that will be used by 800 regional food pantries across the region.

Dr. Susan Keen, director of Brody’s Service-Learning Distinction Track, advised the students throughout the food insecurity project.

Keen stressed the importance of physicians understanding patients’ access to healthy food, or lack thereof. Food insecurity can contribute to many health problems, including anemia, poor growth in children, high blood pressure and difficulty controlling diabetes.

“You can’t try to talk to someone about managing diabetes and paying for medications when they can’t afford to feed their family,” said fourth-year student Anna Laughman, whose residency will be in internal medicine-pediatrics at Vidant. “I think that is the root of getting to know patients beyond just their lab work. I think it’s great for students, before we become physicians, to be humbled again to be able to provide food — a basic human right and need — before we start with our long white coats and shiny stethoscopes in a position of authority and power in health care.”

Biomaterials a focus for researchers

Researchers are putting a focus on biomaterials with the launch of ECU’s newest research cluster.

In April, the university launched its biomaterials research cluster as part of its annual Research and Creative Achievement Week, bringing together faculty and students across disciplines to discuss their work in the field.

Biomaterials are substances engineered to interact with natural biological systems, often for medical purposes. These substances can include materials used for joint replacements, heart valves, surgical sutures or ligament replacements, among others.

Biomaterials are frequently used in the cardiovascular, orthopedic, dental and neurological fields. The global biomaterials market is expected to reach $250.4 billion by 2025.

Associate professor of engineering Michelle Oyen said in the past, some research projects at ECU have been tangentially related to biomaterials, but there hasn’t been a concentrated effort to promote the field.

“We know there are researchers working in peripheral fields,” Oyen said. “We just don’t know exactly what each individual researcher is doing. That’s one of the missions of the cluster. We want to get everyone in a room, find out the research they’re conducting, the tools and techniques their using, and consolidate biomaterials research under the same tent.”

The cluster is led by Oyen and fellow co-directors Stephanie George and Nathan Hudson. Hudson said the cluster encourages collaboration between ECU clinicians in medicine, dentistry and allied health with basic scientists in engineering, physics, chemistry and biological sciences.

In addition to support provided by cluster co-directors, 2,400 square feet of lab space dedicated to biomaterials research will be provided to researchers on the fourth floor of the School of Dental Medicine over the next five years.

ECU’s research clusters were first launched in 2017 as part of the university’s Rural Prosperity Initiative. Learn more about the biomaterials cluster and explore additional research clusters online .

Nursing faculty member talks health on radio

One College of Nursing faculty member has found a creative way to air — and share — health information with the community.

Wendy Bridgers, clinical instructor in baccalaureate education in the College of Nursing, is the host of a radio segment on WBIS-LP 106.9 Awesome Radio, a gospel station based in Greenville. Her live segment, “Family Health Matters,” is a 30-minute show at 3 p.m. on Thursdays during which Bridgers has a guest speaker on different health topics and takes questions from the listening audience.

“It’s amazing to hear people in the community call in and have conversations about what we’re discussing,” Bridgers said, adding that people stop her and tell her what they’ve learned by listening to the segment, what they didn’t know before and how the information helped them understand different health matters.

Retired from Vidant Health, Bridgers joined the College of Nursing faculty and realized there was a treasure trove of experts who were passionate about their field and specific health topics, she said. She reached out to colleagues from the college — as well as from Pitt Community College and other area institutions and agencies — to join the segment as guests. Show topics have ranged from test anxiety and depression to childhood asthma, thanks to the diversity of health interests of her guests.

The purpose of the segment, Bridgers said, is to empower the community and equip them with information they need to make them and their families healthier. Bridgers has been hosting the show for about a year and a half.

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