2022 White Coat Ceremony | Eastern North Carolina Now | ECU welcomes newest class of medical students

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    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The authors of this post are Benjamin Abel and Kelly Rogers Dilda.


First-year medical student Haris Shehzad receives his white coat during The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University’s annual White Coat Ceremony on July 29. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

    Excitement resonated from East Carolina University's Health Sciences Campus on Friday morning as the Brody School of Medicine officially welcomed 86 new medical students - all North Carolina residents - during its annual White Coat Ceremony.

    In front of a standing-room only crowd of cheering family, friends and faculty members, the first-year medical students were individually presented with the white coats they will wear in patient care areas throughout their time at ECU.

    Keynote speaker Dr. Aundrea Oliver, an assistant professor of thoracic and foregut surgery in Brody's Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, spoke about the significance of the white coat.

    "The most important thing to remember through this is that this is not about you," Oliver said. "If you become an oncologist, or an epidemiologist or if you go into pediatrics, it doesn't matter where your patient needs you or their families or the community. It's about making change everywhere they are.

    "The mark of a true physician is someone who can look into the face of uncertainty and say, 'I don't know, but I do know we are determined to find out,'" she added. "It's someone who can look at a patient who is suffering and seek the truth to confront it wholeheartedly and not run away when someone else is in pain. All of us are achievers. All of us would like to be successful. But I will tell you that the best way to do that is to always put your patient - who is right in front of you - as your focus."

    Dr. Michael Waldrum, dean of the Brody School of Medicine and CEO of ECU Health, spent time with the students of the class of 2026 and is impressed by how they carry on the school's tradition of graduating diverse professionals to tackle the challenges of providing health care to North Carolina's rapidly diversifying population.

    "They are part of that tradition, whether it's a gender, ethnic, religious or language diversity," Waldrum said. "What it takes to solve complex problems is diverse perspectives and then creating a culture and an environment where we can explore and inquiry together with those diverse perspectives. That has been Brody's tradition and they are clearly part of that tradition."

    The students hail from 30 North Carolina counties and 26 undergraduate institutions. Nearly 56% of the class is female, 17% are first-generation college students and more than 23% are from minority groups - Black, Native American and Hispanic or Latino - that the Association of American Medical Colleges considers "underrepresented in medicine."

    First generation

    Raleigh resident Edith Rivera and her family immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was a child. She later became the first member of her family to attend college.

    After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018, she spent a few years working in several allied health positions.

    Rivera described her experience as a dermatology medical assistant as the most formative in her desire to pursue medicine.

    "I worked in Sanford, North Carolina, with an amazingly skilled and thoughtful dermatologist who often remembered details about her patient's lives and extended clinic hours to squeeze in surgical cases for people in particular need," she said.

    She also explained how she saw firsthand the health disparities between urban and rural areas.

    "The opportunity to provide specialized care to patients that otherwise would have to travel long distances is something that was deeply fulfilling," she said. "I confirmed my desire to be a doctor while personally witnessing the impact that the dedication of one doctor can have on the communities they serve."

    Rivera also explained why Brody was the right fit for her.

    "I knew that my heart was in North Carolina and that I wanted to serve in the state, so naturally Brody was my top choice," she said. "Their mission to train underrepresented physicians and improve the health of North Carolinians aligns with my personal mission."

    Rivera said the journey to medical school has been so much bigger than her own accomplishments.

    "Being the first person in my family to attend college much less medical school is only possible because of the morals my family instilled in me and the sacrifices they made for me to pursue higher education," she said.

    Having her family present to support her during Friday's White Coat Ceremony was a surreal experience, she added.

    "This symbolizes years of hard work and dedication marked by a lot of highs and lows both academically and professionally," Rivera said. "I may be the one physically receiving their white coat, but my family is receiving their white coat today as well. This is for me as much as it is for them. It signifies one large step for my family."

    Serving the underserved

    Durham County resident Martin Green comes to ECU with a built-in group of friends from his undergraduate schooling at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and summer programs at UNC-Chapel Hill, but is finding the class of 2026 to be full of people that he looks forward to knowing better.

    "There are obviously a bunch of new people really and I'm starting to mesh with them, play basketball with them. It's a great group and I'm glad to be part of it," Green said.

    Green is still not sure what medical specialty he wants to pursue after graduating from Brody, but chose the school because of the focus on equity and bringing quality health care to communities that are often overlooked.

    "I wanted to find a program that valued serving the medically underserved and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. It is important to me that I complete my medical education at an institution that is committed so heavily to not only its medical students, but also its surrounding community," said Green, adding he believes he found a program, at ECU, that will help him to meet that goal.

    Where will his time at Brody ultimately wind up?

    "I think I'm willing to kind of throw myself in and see what comes out at the end," Green said. "I have a couple of specialties that I think I'm interested in. A lot of things that I think I want to do but I think it's really going to be to the moment, what I feel like I want to do."

    The Brody community

    Kill Devil Hills resident and first-generation college student Blaiz Rodman was planning to run cross-country and track at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, but near-fatal car accident when he was 16 years old changed his life.

    "So far, my biggest challenge was breaking my L3 vertebra in the car crash which required a fusion surgery and long hospital stay," Rodman said. "My plans for cross country and track were no longer an option after that."

    Rodman said his patient experience is what motivated him to pursue medicine.

    "Going through the healing process made me want to be in a position to help others who may be dealing with their own health issues and see them get back to their respective normal," he said.

    Rodman said he feels amazing and very proud of now being a part of the Brody community.

    "I've heard again and again how much it feels like a family being here. And just after orientation week I'm already starting to feel that," he said. "My classmates are amazing people and Brody faculty and staff are super eager to offer any help they can.

    "Putting on the white coat has been a very proud moment for me," he added. "I think it represents all the accomplishments of everyone in the class and all of the hard work we will go through to one day make our community a healthier place."
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