New Endocrinology Professorship | Beaufort County Now | Donor’s gift will benefit Brody School of Medicine | east carolina university, ECU, endocrinology, new professorship, brody school of medicine, donor gift, november 3, 2020

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New Endocrinology Professorship

Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Erin Ward.

The Division of Endocrinology provides many training programs for both diabetes patients and future endocrinologists. | Photo: Cliff Hollis


"This will not only help promote ECU as a center of endocrine health but also to help with the training of future endocrinologists. This will allow us to improve the quality of education as well as patient care in this whole area."
  – Dr. Mary Katherine Lawrence

    When Dr. Mary Katherine Lawrence moved to Morehead City 30 years ago to practice medicine, she was the only endocrinologist in town.

    Endocrinologists are doctors who treat disorders of the endocrine glands and hormones, which regulate the body's processes. Hormones are in every cell and are fundamental to all the systems in the body. When something is wrong with the hormones, it can cause a debilitating chain reaction internally.

    Being the first endocrinologist in a coastal town of only 6,000 at the time, Lawrence quickly realized East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine was a resource for her practice and her patients.

    "If a patient had a more complicated type of endocrine condition, East Carolina is where we would refer them," she said.

    Realizing the need for more endocrinologists in the area, Lawrence set in motion a chain reaction of her own. This one, however, is positive, and will end up helping many people.

    She created a professorship in endocrinology at Brody, which will enable the school to recruit a senior faculty member with research skills, which in turn will attract more fellowship candidates.

    "This will not only help promote ECU as a center of endocrine health but also to help with the training of future endocrinologists. This will allow us to improve the quality of education as well as patient care in this whole area," Lawrence said.

    Growing up, Lawrence never wanted to be a doctor. The sight of blood made her squeamish. Her father, on the other hand, always dreamed of becoming a pediatrician. But Joe Lawrence was able to afford only one semester of college before he dropped out and started a car dealership.

    Eventually, her dad's dream became her dream, too. Lawrence went to George Washington University School of Medicine, followed by Vanderbilt for an internal medicine residency and UNC-Chapel Hill for a fellowship in endocrinology.

Dr. Mary Katherine Lawrence works for Carteret Medical Group in Morehead City. | Photo: George Crocker
    In eastern North Carolina, the biggest concern for endocrinologists is diabetes. One out of 10 adults in this state is diagnosed with diabetes, according to the North Carolina Diabetes Advisory Council. In 2018, eastern North Carolina had the highest prevalence of self-reported diabetes in the state.

    Type 2 diabetes especially contributes to other chronic health problems including cardiovascular disease and cancer, said Dr. Caroline Houston, an endocrinologist at Brody Outpatient Center. "There are many patients and communities in our region that are medically underserved, and they are at the highest risk for suffering from complications of chronic disease. By providing endocrine care in the heart of ENC and training future endocrinologists, we have tremendous opportunities to increase access to care, reduce suffering and make meaningful improvements in the overall health of eastern North Carolinians," she said.

    Dr. Al Drake,     professor and division chief of endocrinology and metabolism, described Lawrence's donation as "extremely generous."

    "The prestige of an endowed professorship will allow us to get someone who will add to the academic weightiness to the program. That in turn allows us to recruit more fellows," he said.

    Getting an endocrinologist or any specialist to go where people can't always afford care can be difficult, he added. Another challenge is that many endocrinologists are nearing retirement, making training the next generation of doctors vitally important. To date, over half of Brody's endocrinology fellowship graduates remained in North Carolina to practice. Some stayed on as faculty members, others joined local practices, and still others branched out into different parts of the state and country.

    Lawrence, who has one child who graduated from ECU and another who is currently a medical student at Brody, is looking forward to seeing her gift in motion.

    "I want to support this university that has helped my children and my patients. I also know there's a lot of benefit to this area from having a university of this caliber in our midst," she said.


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