For the first time since 2019, one of East Carolina University’s most exciting annual events returned to an in-person format Friday when 82 fourth-year medical students learned where they will be spending the next three to seven years completing residency training.
Surrounded by their family and friends during the Match Day event in ECU’s Health Sciences Student Center, the students simultaneously opened envelopes containing the location and medical specialty they will practice.
In staying true to the Brody School of Medicine’s mission to increase the number of primary care physicians who serve North Carolina, especially in rural and underserved areas, 61% of this year’s students matched into primary care residencies. And 35% of the class matched into residency programs in North Carolina.
“We continue to excel in our mission,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, dean of the Brody School of Medicine and CEO of Vidant Health. “So this a special day filled with excitement, optimism and pride in what these students have accomplished and where they’re going. We trained them and now they’re ready to go.”
For Waldrum, the Match Day event was special on a personal level.
Not only was this his first Match Day as Brody’s dean, his college roommate’s son, Mark McAlister, was one of the Brody students who matched this week.
Before McAlister chose a medical school, his father reached out to Waldrum — who was still years away from becoming Brody’s dean — to ask his opinion on which medical school to choose.
Waldrum recommended Brody because he considered it the highest value medical school in the nation and would provide him with quality preparation for any career path he chose.
Four years later, McAlister said he was glad he followed that advice.
“As fourth-year students we started to learn what good work goes on here, in terms of patient care and learning. And it felt like this was a spot where we could continue to excel as professionals and develop our careers,” he said.
That advice also helped McAlister meet his soon-to-be wife, Jacqueline Poston, who was the first classmate he met at Brody.
On Friday, McAlister and Poston learned that they both matched at Vidant Medical Center and ECU in Greenville.
“Our priority was staying together and being part of a good program, so we are lucky that we got both of those things,” said Poston, who will be training in internal medicine-pediatrics. “We’ve grown so much as medical students here and I can’t wait to see how much more we grow as residents. It’s an amazing place to be, so we’re really happy.”
Improving accessibility for all patients
K’Shylah Whitehurst knew that wherever she matched, home is right here waiting.
Whitehurst, a Greenville native and ECU chemistry graduate, wants to eventually practice in Pitt County with her family close by and the special patient base she spent years preparing to care for — children.
On Friday afternoon, she opened her envelope, read it and then flipped it over to show her family that she will complete a residency in pediatrics at University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill. As she hugged one of her grandmothers, the tears began to flow and continued with each hug as she went down the row of her family members in attendance.
“I’m so excited. I’ll be close to home. My family will still be nearby. This is one of my top programs, so I’m really, really happy. I’m so excited to continue on this next chapter,” she said. “This will be my first time living outside of Greenville, but it’s not too far so that’s fine.”
Whitehurst said she looks forward to returning to eastern North Carolina after residency to care for children in this region.
“One of the main reasons I decided to go into pediatrics was how resilient children are. Most of the time the children that we’ve seen in the hospital here at Vidant are going through the scariest times of their lives,” she said. “Caring for children not only involves nurturing relationships with my patients, but also gaining the trust of parents to care for their little ones. I’m so excited to start my career as a pediatrician.”
Whitehurst, a first-generation college student who knew she wanted to be a doctor by the time she was 8 years old, said Brody’s focus on serving the underserved and ensuring a diverse student body made the difference for her.
“I love the fact that year after year, the school works to have the most diverse student body. Now that I’ve reached the end of my four years of medical school, I know that I 100% made the right decision to come to Brody,” she said. “The connections that I was able to form with the faculty here is something that I will forever be grateful for.”
During her Brody experience, Whitehurst was selected for the service-learning distinction track, a four-year program that encourages students to work extensively with medically underserved, marginalized and rural populations throughout medical school. She volunteered at the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Community Center and worked with Brody’s Department of Pediatrics to improve resource accessibility to patients. She also earned an ethnic and rural health disparities graduate certificate through the track.
Whitehurst also had the opportunity to participate in a national research project, “WE CARE Project-Reducing Socioeconomic Disparities in Health at Pediatric Visits,” which studies social determinants of health and works to increase patient access to resources. Whitehurst used a special database to learn about resources in Pitt County.
“Through participating in the WE CARE Project, I was able to learn about what resources are available for patients here in Pitt County,” she said. “When treating a patient, it’s so important to remember that they are a human being first. Ensuring that their basic needs such as food security and electricity in their homes are met are so significant toward the patients being able to even consider making it to a yearly doctor’s appointment. I do feel better equipped to consider every aspect of a patient’s life to provide the best treatment for them.”
A calling answered
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in political science, Lumberton native Ross Masters worked in Washington, D.C., for a year in sales before realizing that career path was not the right fit for him.
He instead found his true calling in medicine after taking an EMT-Basic course back home in North Carolina. Shortly after completing the course, Masters witnessed a hit-and-run automobile crash and experienced the fulfillment of “knowing what to do and being useful” during a real-life emergency.
Masters went back to school to complete his medical school science prerequisites and earned a Brody Scholar award, which is ECU’s most prestigious scholarship.
On Friday, Masters and his fiancée, Camille Bauer, learned that they both matched to Vanderbilt University Medicine Center in Tennessee where Bauer will train in obstetrics-gynecology and Masters will train in psychiatry.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Masters said. “Brody has treated us fantastic. We have had access to awesome mentors. Everyone has been super supportive and prepared us well for residency. So we’re feeling great about what Brody has done for us and we’re feeling great about the future as well.”
When Masters arrived at Brody, he was drawn to family medicine because he wanted to help address some of the social determinants of health that he witnessed as an EMT. However, his focus changed after he took part in patient psychiatry education at Brody.
“We were sitting down with social workers, pharmacists and therapists and I felt I was able to provide that whole comprehensive treatment to patients through psychiatry,” he said.
For Masters and Bauer, Match Day represented a major life moment, but it will not be the only one before they start residency training.
“We got a successful couple’s match, which is what we really cared about today,” Bauer said. “We met our first year and started dating about six months later. And now we’re getting married next month.”
‘I want to walk alongside my patients’
Emmanuella Mensah’s journey from her hometown of Charlotte to the Brody School of Medicine has come full circle. After graduation, she will be returning to Charlotte for a family medicine residency with the Carolinas Medical Center Biddle Point Urban Track, where she will train to care for underserved populations.
Mensah’s parents, Ofori and Theresa Mensah, and siblings Gloria and Ofori Jr., all from Charlotte, along with friend and third-year medical student Merdi Lutete were with her on Friday. Her mom said she was so happy that her daughter would be returning home for residency.
“I feel blessed, and I feel good. Thank you Jesus,” Theresa said. “I can have my baby back.”
The residency location was Emmanuella’s top choice, and after reading the match letter, everything was still sinking in.
“I’m very excited and I’m very grateful to know that someone wanted to train me,” she said.
Mensah earned her undergraduate degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and completed Brody’s Summer Program for Future Doctors, which helped her decide that ECU would be a good fit for medical school.
“The magic of Brody is the medical students, and meeting students during that summer, I really felt at home, and I really wanted to be a part of that legacy,” Mensah said. “Brody has meant everything to me. Brody took a chance on me when no one else would take a chance on me, and they’ve been instrumental in my growth as a student.”
Born and raised in Ghana before moving to Charlotte at 10 years old, Mensah believes she can make a difference through family medicine in communities near and far.
“For me, there is no separation between the community and medicine — to take care of a person, you have to understand who they are and what they face when they step out of the clinic,” she said. “I came into medical school with a strong interest in family medicine because I want to provide valuable health care to underserved populations in North Carolina and in Ghana.”
Mensah used her participation in the medical education and distinction teaching track to explore narrative medicine — the use of stories to create a therapeutic alliance between patient and physician — in helping students develop empathy and listening skills. She wants to continue that exploration during her residency.
“We all carry our own stories, but how do doctors represent their patients’ stories accurately? This has been an interest that has developed here at Brody, and I look forward to seeing how it transforms during residency,” she said.
Mensah is also a co-founder of the I Am First organization at Brody, a group that provides first-generation medical students with mentorship from community physicians.
“Even though COVID-19 shut down the world before our first official meeting, due to the diligence of the team members, we were able to keep the organization going,” she said. “I am excited to see how I Am First will continue to grow as it seeks out more mentors and maintains our community.”
Mensah is also a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society for her service to the community. Her penchant for service, medicine and improving the world led her where she is today.
“Although I am nervous for my next step in my journey, I believe Brody has prepared me well to handle the stress and pressures of residency,” she said. “I will always remember to keep the patient and myself first as I learn the intricacies of residency — extending grace where it is needed. Ultimately, I think Brody has prepared me to begin to effectively address both the science and art of medicine.”
Read more through ECU News Services.