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Haley Behm was completing one of her first rotations in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University at an outpatient clinic when Cleve Smith showed up for a routine check-up with his father, Emmett Smith. Cleve, a wheelchair user, has seen his fair share of medical students come through the clinic throughout his visits over the years but this was his first time working with Behm.

As a medical student with limited patient interactions, Behm was nervous about how she would connect with one of her first real patients, let alone her first patient with a disability. But when she met a lighthearted, humorous father-son duo in the patient room, she felt a little more at-ease.

“I was running through a depression and anxiety screening, and I got to a question where it asked ‘Have you ever been so restless you couldn’t sit still?’” Behm recalled. “I felt so bad even having to ask him that question.”

A question that Behm initially dreaded having to ask turned in to the start of a punchline for Cleve and Emmett, and it’s one they’ve practiced more than once.

Haley Behm, a third-year medical student at Brody School of Medicine, places a Legacy Teacher pin on Cleve Smith during the fifth Legacy Teachers Celebration.
Haley Behm, a third-year medical student at Brody School of Medicine, places a Legacy Teacher pin on Cleve Smith during the fifth Legacy Teachers Celebration.

“Haley has been really sweet, and I haven’t forgotten her since the first time we met,” said Cleve. “I could see that question really bothered her because I laughed and she didn’t immediately. So I wanted to assure her everything was fine.”

Added Emmett, “Through the years we have met many medical students at the clinic, and the one I remember is Haley. She had such a kind, caring demeanor. She really cared about Cleve’s feelings and what she could do to help him.”

Behm’s connection with the Smiths was just one of the powerful stories shared at ECU Health and Brody’s fifth annual Legacy Teachers Celebration on April 5. At the Legacy Teachers Celebration, third-year medical students share their experiences in the forms of short stories, poems or videos that honors patients who taught them valuable lessons – the type that can’t be learned in the classroom but can last a lifetime. The event also provides an opportunity for students to reunite with their Legacy Teachers and honor the special connection.

“The stories we hear at the Legacy Teachers Celebration are really emblematic of the types of experiences our students have here at the Brody School of Medicine and ECU Health,” said Dr. Jason Higginson, executive dean, Brody. “Medical students learn so much important information in the classroom and on clinical rotations, but sometimes the most impactful lessons they learn come from those they have the honor of caring for. It’s so gratifying to see our students reconnect with the patients who left a lasting impact on their journey toward becoming a physician.”

For Behm, her experience with the Cleve and Emmett gave her a different perspective on her role as a patient advocate, especially for patients with disabilities who may face difficulties accessing the care they need.

“Patients with disabilities have various accessibility needs, which may not be evident before a visit. It is important to be flexible and modify plans, exams and surroundings,” said Behm.

In total, 22 medical students shared their stories at the Legacy Teachers Celebration, which featured gift baskets, a photo station, lapel pins and remarks from ECU Health and Brody leaders – all designed to create a memorable experience for students and their legacy teachers.

Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of ECU Health and dean of Brody, provided remarks at the celebration along with Dr. Higginson. Like the students, they shared their deeply personal stories of important lessons they learned as students.

The speakers shared common themes around the importance of positive, trusting relationships between patients and care teams.

Students and guests sit during the fifth Legacy Teachers Celebration.

“The relationship between a physician and a patient is a sacred one,” said Dr. Waldrum. “Each patient we interact with provides us an opportunity to reflect on who we are and why we do what we do. For these medical students, who are driven by their passion to make a lasting difference in the lives of others, this event provides them with an opportunity to reflect on the legacy teacher that made a difference in their educational experience.”

While Cleve, Behm and Emmett were able to reunite at Legacy Teachers and share their story and learn of other stories, Behm expressed how important the Legacy Teachers Celebration is to reflect on the lessons learned from patients.

“The biggest part of Legacy Teachers is I have something to learn from all of my patients,” Behm said. “And some make the lessons easier than others.”