Dr. Brodish and team pose for a photo to celebrate 100 patients treated with Inspire Therapy Procedure.

On June 14, 2024, Dr. Brian Brodish, an otolaryngologist with Eastern Carolina ENT, in collaboration with ECU Health, performed his 100th Inspire procedure at ECU Health Medical Center. Inspire is an FDA-approved obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) treatment option for people who cannot use Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy.

“We have a high incidence of sleep apnea in eastern North Carolina, but a lot of patients can’t tolerate a CPAP,” said Dr. Brodish. “There’s a ​significant morbidity to not treating sleep apnea, and up until now, I had nothing to offer. This is one of the first successful surgical alternatives for our patients with sleep apnea.”

OSA affects 22 million Americans. When left untreated, it doesn’t just affect one person, but also those around them. OSA can cause vehicle and workplace accidents, worsening mood and memory, stroke, heart attack and other serious issues.

CPAP is the main treatment for OSA, but unfortunately a large percentage of people don’t see benefit from or can’t tolerate CPAP. Dr. Brodish is proud to offer Inspire as another treatment option for this population.

“Patients were feeling miserable and had nowhere to turn,” Dr. Brodish said. “I finally have a tool I can offer these patients and we’re seeing fantastic results. It’s a low-risk procedure and patients recover in a few weeks.”

Dr. Brodish and team pose for a photo to celebrate 100 patients treated with Inspire Therapy Procedure.
Dr. Brodish and team pose for a photo to celebrate 100 patients treated with Inspire Therapy Procedure.

Inspire works inside the body with a patient’s natural breathing process to treat sleep apnea. Mild stimulation opens the airway during sleep, allowing oxygen to flow naturally. The patient uses a small handheld remote to turn Inspire on before bed and off when they wake up.

“We want the patient to use the device for at least four hours a night or more, and we are looking for their apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), which is the number of times per hour a patient stops breathing, to be below 15,” Dr. Brodish explained. “Some of our patients stop breathing more than 50 times a night before treatment, but 80 percent of our patients have achieved our goal of 15 episodes or less. Some have even achieved zero.”

The Inspire system is implanted during a short, outpatient procedure. The system is placed under the skin of the neck and chest through two small incisions. Most patients return home the same day and take over-the-counter pain medications to manage pain as needed.

“We are excited to have completed the 100th Inspire procedure at ECU Health Medical Center,” said Dr. Brodish.  “This option is a part of ECU Health’s goal to provide state-of-the-art, high-quality care for eastern North Carolina, and we’re seeing patients benefit from this technology.”

Featured | Health News

A Rock Steady Boxing Program participant works with an ECU Health team member during a training session.

Chris Smith, the vice president of finance and operations for the ECU Health Foundation, was working out at the ECU Health Wellness Center when the director pulled him aside and told him about the Rock Steady Boxing program – a non-contact, boxing-inspired fitness routine specifically created for patients with Parkinson’s disease and similar movement disorders.

“They were looking for help with starting up the program – equipment, training for a few coaches, that sort of thing,” Smith said. “I told him we’d take a look at how the Foundation could help, and as it turned out, we were able to provide them the funds they needed to get the program started.”

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness and difficulty with balance and coordination. Symptoms worsen over time, causing difficulty with walking, talking or other daily activities. While there is no cure, physical activity can improve many symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, slow the progression of the disease process and improve patients’ quality of life.

A Rock Steady Boxing Program participant works with an ECU Health team member during a training session.

First created in Indianapolis in 2006, Rock Steady Boxing is now an international nonprofit program with more than 840 certified affiliates. Now, ECU Health’s Wellness Center counts itself among those numbers because of the Foundation’s support.

Smith said it was gratifying to know that money given by donors was used in such a meaningful way.

“This demonstrates the impact of what our donors do for their friends and families in the region. It showed the tangible impact philanthropy has on the lives of people in eastern North Carolina.” Smith also had a personal connection to the program; his father had Parkinson’s. “He passed away right before the pandemic. He was doing rehab, but he could never get back on his feet.”

With those donor-provided funds, which covered the cost of coach training in Indianapolis and the necessary equipment, the ECU Health Wellness Center was able to establish a Rock Steady Boxing program in 2023. Two of the coaches trained for the program were Kiara Robins, the lead exercise specialist, and Cas Costa, an exercise physiologist II. More than 36,000 people live with Parkinson’s disease in North and South Carolina, and Costa highlighted the value of having this program in the area.

“I didn’t realize at first the impact it would have, and I didn’t know how few locations offered the class.” That’s true; the ECU Health Wellness Center is currently only one of three locations to offer the program in eastern North Carolina. As a result, Robins said that their class has grown quickly: “We started with just three or four members but now we’re up to ten or twelve. We have people come from Rocky Mount, Kinston, Grimesland, Snow Hill and Ayden looking to do the program. We’re steadily growing, and we’re seeing great results.”

Those results are measured through balance and gait tests, such as the Berg Balance test and the Get up and Go test. “Our first four participants have gone from high fall risks to medium or low risks,” Robins said. “Some couldn’t even complete components of the tests, but they now can.”

Justin Mendoza, one of the participants in the class and its youngest member, attested to the program’s positive effects. “They [the coaches] really put their heart into thinking of exercises. You have someone who has studied this and knows what you’re going through. I’ve improved in my strength and walking, and I don’t fall as often,” he said.

While some clients, like Mendoza, heard about the Greenville class when theirs shut down, others received referrals from their physical therapists or physicians. Dr. Temitope Lawal, an ECU Health movement disorder neurologist, is one of those doctors to refer patients to the program.

“Exercise slows the progression of Parkinson’s,” he said. “It’s an extrapolation of the saying, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ This program makes you accountable and asks you to move your muscles as much as you can.” Dr. Lawal also noted the social value of the program. “It’s an avenue for interaction with others who have Parkinson’s, so it’s like an informal support group.” Costa agreed: “The biggest benefit is the sense of community. It’s hard to go to a regular gym and know what to do. But here, everyone has Parkinson’s so there’s a level of comfort with the activities.”

That accessibility to specialized exercise programs is just one of the things that sets apart the ECU Health Wellness Center.

“The Wellness Center is more than a gym,” Robins said. “You have trained staff here, all with a degree in exercise and certified in one or more areas to better serve the population.” Costa also emphasized the value of specialty-trained staff. “We’re a wellness center, which is different from a gym. In a gym you can’t see a dietician or a lifestyle coach or go next door for a physical therapy appointment. We have a full-circle of wellness with staff trained to help patients with Parkinson’s, arthritis, orthopedic needs, cancer and other diagnoses.”

Both coaches acknowledged that collaboration is required to make Rock Steady Boxing and other programs successful.

“I’m working towards a Ph.D. in kinesiology, and in school we’re learning about the relationship between physicians and exercise physiologists,” said Costa. “Rock Steady Boxing is an example of that collaboration. ECU Health supporting this program helps us build relationships with the doctors and specialists in the network.”

This partnership provides access to valuable resources and complements the medications patients with Parkinson’s must take to combat the symptoms.

Membership is not required to participate in Rock Steady Boxing. “90 percent of our participants are non-members,” Robins said. Participants pay for eight sessions per month, but there’s also a drop-in rate for those who have less predictable schedules. Those who are unsure if they want to join can observe a class for free, and they can participate in the class on a month-to-month basis with no obligation.

Robins said the program has plans to continue its growth so it can better serve the region, and both she and Costa shared their appreciation to the Foundation for supporting the program.

“We’re grateful to have this program here in Greenville,” Robins said. “We’re still in the beginning stages, but we want to expand as much as we can and get more members. We want to encourage everyone with Parkinson’s to participate and to let them know we’re here to help as much as we can.” Mendoza championed the program and the coaches for their hard work: “I love the class. We have fun, and the coaches know what they’re doing. You don’t feel intimidated or self-conscious, and it gives you a sense of pride.”

ECU Health Foundation | Neurology | Wellness

Cheryl Hooks poses for a photo outside of the Kenansville Family Medicine practice, where she sees her patients.

Cheryl Hooks, a family nurse practitioner (FNP), is a Rose Hill native who started her career cutting hair. “For a very long time, about 20 years, I worked as a cosmetologist and I owned my own beauty salon,” Cheryl said.

Things changed for her and her close-knit family when they learned her oldest niece, nine years old at the time, had juvenile, or Type 1, diabetes.

“She got sick and had to go to the hospital, and that’s how they found out she was diabetic,” Cheryl said. “It was very scary because no one really knew what to do or how to help her.”

Cheryl wanted to learn all she could about the illness, including about medications and diet, so she could better support her niece; but in the process, she realized she wanted to advocate for all individuals with health problems. That’s when she decided to become a nurse.

Making the shift to nursing wasn’t easy. “I was older and trying to manage my time. You go from a point where you are your own boss to not having that freedom because you’re in school,” she said.

Still, her desire to take care of people inspired her to keep going. After graduating with her RN from Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, Hooks worked at ECU Health Duplin Hospital while pursuing her BSN from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Wilmington. She started her health care career in behavioral health, and later worked in the emergency department, where she realized the need in her community for primary care services. As a result, she went back to school to pursue her doctor of nursing practice degree in family medicine from UNC Chapel Hill, from which she graduated in 2022.

While she sometimes misses her work as a cosmetologist, Cheryl said many of the skills she used in her salon inform the way she works with her patients today.

“Owning a business gave me confidence. I was introverted, but taking care of my clients gave me self-assurance,” Cheryl said. “I treasure the trust between me and my patients, and the skills I used behind the chair trickled down to patient care.”

Cheryl now practices at ECU Health Family Medicine – Kenansville, a multi-specialty family medicine clinic, and she loves her team.

“I am thankful for the people I work with and for the opportunity to work in a rural setting,” she said. “A lot of people have the misconception that in rural areas you don’t get to see as much as in other places, but we do. We get to see many things nurses don’t often get to experience – we have family medicine, orthopedics and cardiology all in the same place. We learn so much because the resources aren’t as vast.” Cheryl also enjoys working near her hometown. “I am not a city girl, and I knew I wanted to work closer to home. Now I get to take care of people in my own community,” she said. “I still get to take care of the ladies who sat in my salon chair; now I make sure they’re healthy.”

For those considering a career change to health care, Cheryl has a few words of wisdom. “I say go for it. If you’re not on the path that’s fulfilling you, take that first step. It’s never too late to do what you are meant to do; there’s no expiration date on your dreams.”

Family Medicine & Primary Care | Featured | Nursing

Trish Baise poses for a photo with Jay Briley and Stephanie Seburn during the Magnet Designation celebration.

It is no secret that ECU Health’s mission to improve the health and well-being of the region is directly tied to the success of recruiting the best providers, nurses and care teams. The ongoing labor shortage makes it more important than ever to have a compelling reputation that attracts a talented workforce committed to eastern North Carolina.

Headshot of Trish Baise

Trish Baise, ECU Health Chief Nursing Executive

During my first year at ECU Health as chief nursing executive, my team and I set out to gain a deep understanding of ECU Health nursing. The goal was to highlight and leverage the incredible strengths while also identifying the work needed to create and sustain a culture of nursing excellence. Our commitment is to ensure the organization fosters an environment where nurses can flourish, grow professionally and have a meaningful nursing experience while providing safe and highly reliable human-centered care.

This challenging work has already resulted in important achievements that affirm our standing as a world-class nursing organization. Most recently, ECU Health Medical Center achieved Magnet recognition – the highest national honor for exemplary nursing practice – for the third consecutive time, highlighting our commitment to creating a nursing ecosystem that embodies excellence. Less than 10% of hospitals in the United States have Magnet designation and ECU Health Medical Center is one of only eleven in North Carolina.
This achievement is the celebration of our collaborative work, but it is not the destination. We are just beginning our efforts to propel nursing at ECU Health to unprecedented heights, making it adaptable to the ever-changing health care industry.

The Path Forward for ECU Health Nursing

We are taking bold steps forward. At ECU Health, we are not just reacting to the future of nursing, we are defining it. We are co-designing an empowering environment for our nurses to innovate and excel, enhancing patient care, and setting a new standard for nursing excellence in rural health and beyond.

At the core of this work is an inclusive approach to re-imagining and elevating nursing at ECU Health we have named Advancing Nursing Practice and Excellence (APEX). It began as a broad research project, capturing the voices of our nurses across the entire health system to ensure we had a deep understanding and appreciation for our environment. We are using the information gained during this research to inform our nursing strategic plan and design the work ahead, ensuring our nurses are a part of it every step of the way.

APEX will be the model for nursing excellence, innovation, research and education in rural health and beyond. Unifying leadership, technology and evidence-based practices, APEX exemplifies the future of human-centered care.

Investing in Future Nurses

In addition to our APEX work, we are committed to strong partnerships and innovative collaborations alongside our academic partners in the region including East Carolina University and local community colleges to offer training programs for the next generation of health care professionals. Our nationally accredited Nurse Residency Program empowers graduate nurses to select from various clinical areas, aligning with their professional aspirations. Our structured, evidence-based program pairs new nurses with experienced mentors, fostering skill refinement and growth. Upon completion, participants gain practical experience, enhance critical thinking, and transition confidently into their nursing careers.

What This Means for Our Communities

Through our APEX work, ECU Health is cultivating a thriving nursing environment empowered and engaged to lead innovations that support improved quality of patient care and enhanced patient experience for those across our region. Together, with our nurses, we will be publishing our work – sharing the unprecedented work taking place in eastern North Carolina as we create the national model for rural health nursing excellence.

Our Magnet recognition is a reminder of ECU Health’s long-standing legacy of nursing excellence, and we are proud to propel that legacy into the future with these continued efforts. Additionally, our nurse residency program will play a vital role in training the next generation of nurses. By contributing to a healthier, more resilient community with improved health outcomes, we embody the state motto of North Carolina,“Esse quam videri,” which means “To be, rather than to seem.” This marks only the beginning of an incredible journey of continuous improvement and innovation for ECU Health. I take immense pride in our new strategic direction for nursing and feel privileged to collaborate with the best nurses in the country.

Editorial | Nursing

The team from ECU Health Medical Center's Electrophysiology Lab poses for a photo.

Greenville, N.C.ECU Health Medical Center Electrophysiology Lab is the first hospital lab in North Carolina to earn accreditation by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC) in Cardiac Electrophysiology in the areas of Testing and Ablation, Device Implantation and Left Atrial Appendage Occlusion. IAC accreditation is a “seal of approval” that patients can rely on as an indicator of consistent quality care and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Accreditation by the IAC means that ECU Health Medical Center Electrophysiology Lab has undergone an intensive application and review process and is found to be in compliance with published standards, thus demonstrating a commitment to quality patient care. Comprised of a detailed self-evaluation followed by a thorough review by a panel of medical experts, the IAC accreditation process enables both the operational and technical components of the facility to be assessed, including representative case studies and their corresponding final reports.

The team from ECU Health Medical Center's Electrophysiology Lab poses for a photo.

ECU Health is dedicated to setting a national standard for rural health care and high-quality cardiovascular care,” said Jay Briley, president, ECU Health Medical Center. “Achieving IAC accreditation for the ECU Health Medical Center Electrophysiology Lab not only underscores our commitment to excellence but also highlights the unique advantage of offering advanced care in a rural setting. This milestone reaffirms our mission to enhance the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina by providing the latest technology and medical services close to home.”

Each year, more than one million cardiac device and ablation procedures are performed for the treatment of heart rhythm disorders worldwide. Cardiac electrophysiology procedures are performed by facilities that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm disorders to relieve symptoms or regulate heart rate and rhythm. Cardiac electrophysiology is comprised of specialized diagnostic testing and therapeutic procedures performed by highly skilled health care professionals. The training and experience of the cardiac electrophysiology specialist performing the procedure, the type of equipment used and the quality assessment metrics each facility is required to measure, all contribute to a positive patient outcome.

“As a cardiologist and electrophysiologist, I know first-hand the importance of having high-quality cardiovascular services close to home for those who live in eastern North Carolina,” said Dr. John Catanzaro, professor and chief, Division of Cardiology, the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, director of East Carolina Heart Institute, ECU Health Medical Center. “This new accreditation underscores our dedication to delivering exceptional patient care through adherence to the highest standards of quality and safety. Patients across eastern North Carolina can take heart knowing the ECU Health Medical Center Electrophysiology Lab has the highest-quality expertise and personnel available to care for them.”

Awards | Health News | Heart and Vascular | Press Releases

Teachers from across eastern North Carolina visit the ECU Health Medical Center rehabilitation unit.

ECU Health recently joined Pitt Community College and NC East Alliance to host teachers from across eastern North Carolina as part of the NC East Alliance STEM East Summer Teacher Leadership Institute series. The initiative, designed to deepen teachers’ understanding of the health science industry, featured interactive sessions and site visits aimed at showcasing diverse career opportunities and educational pathways within health care.

Teachers started the day by attending learning sessions at Pitt Community College, where they heard from ECU Health experts about a variety of health care and health sciences topics. Following the sessions, the teachers took a tour of ECU Health Medical Center where they learned about the region’s only Level I academic medical center.

Jacqueline Thompson, a CTE teacher at Bertie Middle School, wanted to find interactive educational opportunities so her students have the chance to learn about different health care careers.

Teachers from across eastern North Carolina visit the ECU Health Medical Center rehabilitation unit.
Teachers from across eastern North Carolina visit the ECU Health Medical Center rehabilitation unit.

“During our information sessions, they not only talked about health care careers for people like me who teach health sciences and career exploratory, but also for math teachers and science teachers or English teachers,” said Thompson. “It helps teach us, ‘How can I collaborate with other teachers and work with them on reinforcing what we’re teaching to students?’”

As the largest employer in eastern North Carolina’s 29-county region, ECU Health has an interest in inspiring the next generation of health care workers and these partnerships help drive the health system’s ability to ensure future generations have access to high-quality care.

“ECU Health was eager to participate in this event because teachers play a crucial role in shaping a student’s understanding of career opportunities in health care,” said Lisa Lassiter, director of Workforce Development, ECU Health. “The more the teachers know and understand about health care themselves, the more they can inspire and educate the students. In addition to exposing the teachers to careers in health care, we had the opportunity to ensure teachers have an awareness of the values and professional skills needed so they can also incorporate the learning of those skills in the classroom.”

Another benefit of the collaboration is the opportunity to expand students’ knowledge on different health care careers, both in and outside of their community

“From a rural perspective, our students often only think of jobs of what they see in the community,” said Thompson. “There are more careers outside the community and we can give them exposure to different careers they’ve never dreamt of doing because they didn’t know it exists. We are seeing these careers and learning about their educational paths so we can teach our kids that they don’t have to go to a four-year college. You could get a two-year degree or a certification and stay in eastern North Carolina.”

Melissa Decarlo, physical therapist IV, Rehab Neurosciences Program, ECU Health Medical Center, regularly gives tours to students, and she was excited to be able to provide education to teachers in the community on this tour.

“For me, I enjoy what I do as a physical therapist here, touching the patients’ lives and their families’ lives,” said Decarlo. “I also think it’s our responsibility to spread the knowledge about what we do into the community. I think by doing the tours I am lighting a spark of interest and excitement within the students and showing the teachers what we do so they are better equipped to teach their students about our careers.

The collaboration between ECU Health, Pitt Community College and NC East Alliance not only supports professional development for educators but also aims to foster a new generation of healthcare professionals in eastern North Carolina.

Community

A man discusses symptoms with a nurse

ECU Health offers many opportunities for team members to further their education and pursue their dreams, including the HomeGrown Program and tuition reimbursement. After years of deferring her dream to become a nurse, Michelle Dixon, now a staff nurse IV working in the ECU Health Patient Testing Center, used the HomeGrown Program and tuition reimbursement to receive her associate’s degree in nursing.

Michelle Dixon, staff nurse IV working in the ECU Health Patient Testing Center.

Michelle Dixon

When she was in high school, Michelle said she didn’t have many people encouraging her in her education.

“My plan was to be a childcare teacher because I love kids,” she said. But her brother’s mentor, George Lauteres, encouraged her to think about nursing as a career. “He always wanted to see my reports cards and said, ‘Michelle you are smart; you should be a nurse.’ And then he’d bring the newspaper to show me how many nursing jobs there were. He said, ‘You’ll always have a job.’”

After high school, Michelle attended Pitt Community College to complete her prerequisites for the nursing program, but she ended up having to drop out due to changes in her circumstances. She worked in various jobs until a connection through a temp agency in 1998 landed her a position at what was then know as Pitt County Memorial Hospital, now ECU Health, in the Central Services Department, where she worked for eight years.

“But there was a point when I wanted to do more,” Michelle said; and that’s when she thought about her original plan to become a nurse.

She heard about the HomeGrown program through co-workers who were going through the program to become surgical technicians. When her manager in Central Services, Audrey Williams, learned Michelle was interested in a career change, she supported her fully.

“She made it possible for me to work the hours I needed so I could take classes and participate in clinicals,” Michelle said. “She did everything she could to help me, and every time I completed a class, I couldn’t wait to show her my grades. She made me want to be better.”

The HomeGrown Program allows ECU Health team members to go back to school for specific degree programs, including RN, surgical technology or respiratory therapy, while working 20 hours a week and keeping their full salary and benefits. This was enormously helpful to Michelle, who said that without the program, she would not have been able to continue to work while also working toward her degree: “I was able to work 10 hours on Saturdays and 10 on Sundays, which let me take my classes and study and attend clinicals during the week.”

Applying for the program was easy; “it was getting into the program that was the hard part,” she laughed. Through the HomeGrown Program and with her manager’s support, Michelle completed her degree in 2008. After graduation, she joined the 2 South team in Internal Medicine, and she trained as a charge nurse and clinical coach.

In 2020, Michelle again felt there was more she wanted to do, so she returned to school to get her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington (UNCW).  It was at this point she joined the team in Patient Testing Services. Again, she found herself surrounded by supportive and encouraging mentors. Heather Smith and Glenda Flemmings, both RNs in the Patient Testing Center, encouraged Dixon to complete the Aspiring Nurse Leader Program and pursue certification in Ambulatory Care Nursing.

“They allowed me to take the time I needed, and they encouraged me to get my master’s, which is what I decided to do,” she said. Using ECU Health’s tuition reimbursement, Dixon recently returned to UNCW to get her master’s in Healthcare Administration.

Michelle said without the HomeGrown Program and tuition reimbursement, as well as the support she received from her mentors along the way, she wouldn’t have been able to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

“For that initial nursing degree, I had to go to clinicals, and I just couldn’t do that and work 40 hours a week. I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to go back to school and be a nurse.” And she loves being nurse, mostly because of the time she gets to spend with patients. “I feel like I’ve learned as much from them as I have from my education,” she said. “They help me appreciate life and give me a whole new perspective.”

The HomeGrown Program, Michelle said, is important because it helps entry-level team members like her to grow the organization from within.

“This is a way we can grow our own team members and keep them within the organization,” she said. “With the nursing shortage, these types of positions are crucial.” That’s why Michelle wants everyone to know about the HomeGrown Program and tuition reimbursement. “Because of ECU Health, I am the first person in my family of 13 children to graduate from college,” she said. “A lot of people have aspirations like me, but they don’t know the route to get there.”

The HomeGrown Program has been offered at ECU Health for more than 30 years, and candidates are selected through a highly competitive application process. Team members must meet eligibility requirements and go through interviews before being admitted to their program. After successfully graduating, team members have a two-year commitment to work full-time for ECU Health.

Featured | Nursing

ECU Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum speaks during the Quality Improvement Symposium at ECU Health.

Greenville, N.C. – Michael Waldrum, MD, MSc, MBA, ECU Health chief executive officer and dean of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, has been named chair-elect of the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) 2024-25 Board of Directors. The incoming board’s term begins Nov. 12, 2024, and will end November 2025, after which Dr. Waldrum will assume the role of board chair.

Dr. Michael Waldrum

Dr. Michael Waldrum

Dr. Waldrum was named chief executive officer of ECU Health in 2015 and named dean of Brody in 2021. He previously served as president and CEO of The University of Arizona Health Network and as CEO of the University of Alabama Hospital at Birmingham. Dr. Waldrum is a specialist in critical care medicine and pulmonology and is trained in internal medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and completed his residency at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Dr. Waldrum has served as chair of the AAMC’s Council of Teaching Hospitals and Health Systems (now called the Council of Academic Health System Executives) since 2022, where his unique rural health care perspective helped shape discussions around the complex issues facing rural communities across the nation and how academic medicine can help solve those challenges.

“I am extremely honored to serve as chair-elect of the prestigious AAMC Board of Directors, which has long been a powerful voice in academic medicine,” said Dr. Waldrum. “I look forward to continuing to work closely with highly respected academic health leaders from across the nation who are passionate about ensuring quality health care is available to all, including those living in rural communities. While there are certainly complex challenges facing health care nationally, the AAMC’s collective expertise helps chart new paths forward that improve the lives of many. It is humbling to be a part of this important work.”

The AAMC is a nonprofit association dedicated to improving the health of people everywhere through medical education, health care, medical research, and community collaborations. Its members are all 158 U.S. medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education; 13 accredited Canadian medical schools; approximately 400 teaching hospitals and health systems, including Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 70 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC leads and serves America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and the millions of individuals across academic medicine, including more than 193,000 full-time faculty members, 96,000 medical students, 153,000 resident physicians, and 60,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences. Following a 2022 merger, the Alliance of Academic Health Centers and the Alliance of Academic Health Centers International broadened the AAMC’s U.S. membership and expanded its reach to international academic health centers.

Community | Press Releases

ECU Health Family Medicine graduates pose for a photo with Dr. Audy Whitman, left.

Greenville, N.C. – ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University celebrated the graduation of the first ever cohort of resident physicians in the Rural Family Medicine Residency Program on June 30, before officially welcoming the latest class of resident physicians into the newly expanded program July 1, marking two important milestones in a program uniquely designed to help meet the academic rural health mission.

Launched in 2021, the Rural Family Medicine Residency Program provides recent medical school graduates interested in serving as family medicine physicians in rural communities first-hand experience in caring for patients in the kind of under-served settings they plan to practice in upon completion of their residency training.

The inaugural class of Rural Family Medicine Residency Program graduates and their plans for practicing are as follows:

ECU Health Family Medicine graduates pose for a photo with Dr. Audy Whitman, left.
ECU Health Family Medicine graduates pose for a photo with Dr. Audy Whitman, left.
  • Dr. Jim Jaralene Porquez will start a new family medicine outpatient practice located in the ECU Health Multispecialty Clinic – Kenansville and provide hospitalist coverage at ECU Health Duplin Hospital.
  • Dr. Zeel Shah will serve as a hospitalist at ECU Health Beaufort Hospital and will also provide precepting to resident physicians at Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center.
  • Dr. Raza Syed will join a sports medicine fellowship program in Spokane, Washington, with plans to return to North Carolina after his one-year fellowship commitment to start practice.
  • Dr. Amy White Jones will move to rural western Minnesota to practice outpatient medicine at Sanford Health System.

“I could not be more proud of the four inaugural graduates from the ECU Health Rural Family Medicine Residency Program, who have all embraced the rural mission and helped pioneer this important program,” said Dr. Audy Whitman, program director of the Rural Family Medicine Residency Program. “Each of these physicians have a passion for serving rural communities and have embraced the challenge of providing care in areas where their services are critically needed. Their unique training has given them a unique understanding of how to deliver high-quality primary care in rural environments and I take immense pride in knowing they will have an incredible impact in the communities in which they will soon practice.”

Despite rural communities representing nearly 20% of the U.S. population, only 10% of U.S. physicians practice in rural areas. The ECU Health Rural Family Medicine Residency Program aims to increase the number of physicians practicing in rural America, especially eastern North Carolina. Studies show that family medicine resident physicians who spent 50% or more of their training time in rural settings were at least five times more likely than resident physicians with no rural training to practice in a rural setting.

The program exposes resident physicians to the breadth of family medicine — in both an academic medical center environment and in rural environments — so they are well-prepared to provide comprehensive care in a variety of practice settings. The resident physicians spend a majority of their first year of training at ECU Health Medical Center in Greenville before spending the next two years training at a regional location where they build connections with their patients and become integrated into the communities they serve.

The Rural Family Medicine Residency Program also received recent approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to expand its class size and add an additional training site location, bringing the program to nine residents per class across three sites: in Ahoskie at the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center and ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital; in Duplin County at Goshen Medical Center in Beulaville and ECU Health Duplin Hospital in Kenansville; and in Roanoke Rapids at Rural Health Group Halifax Medical Specialists and ECU Health North Hospital, which is the newest training site in the program.

The newest Rural Family Medicine Residency Program class includes:

  • Dr. Flora Danquah, Ahoskie Site
  • Dr. Danh Pham, Ahoskie Site
  • Dr. Saima Shawl, Ahoskie Site
  • Dr. Andre Mancheno-Rubio, Duplin Site
  • Dr. Shelley Matthews, Duplin Site
  • Dr. Jaya Purathur, Duplin site
  • Dr. Tanweer Hoosen, Roanoke Rapids Site
  • Dr. Tobi Okafor, Roanoke Rapids Site
  • Dr. Joy Onyeanuna, Roanoke Rapids Site

“This is an exciting time at ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine as we are truly charting the future of rural academic health care in the spirit of the shared mission to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of ECU Health and dean of Brody. “When resident physicians practice and train in rural communities, they develop an intimate appreciation for the importance of rural health care. The program’s continued growth is a testament to all who have worked hard to make the Rural Family Medicine Residency Program a reality and it is humbling to know our organization is making a profound impact on rural communities through these innovative efforts.”

Community | Family Medicine & Primary Care | Featured | Press Releases

ECU Health Chowan Hospital award winners and presenters from left: Dr. Niti Armistead, Pam Ward, Brittany Proctor, Courtnay Hale, Dana Byrum and Theresa Anderson.

Greenville, N.C. – The 2024 ECU Health Board Quality Leadership Award winners were recognized by the ECU Health Board of Directors June 25, 2024. These winning teams are a representation of excellent work across the system that drives the quality goal of zero harm, creates exceptional experiences and improves patient outcomes. Numerous nominations were reviewed by the committee, and the winning team are as follows:

ECU Health Medical Center award winners and presenters from left: Dr. Niti Armistead, Aimee Dunn, Natasha Drake, Dr. Vikram Bhinder and Theresa Anderson.

ECU Health Medical Center – Cutting CAUTIs in the Neurosciences ICU: A Collaborative Approach. The project leaders were: Natasha Drake, BSN, RN, CCRN – NSICU Nurse Manager, Vikram Bhinder, MD – NSICU Medical Director and Aimee Dunn, BSN, RN, CCRN, SCRN – NSICU Staff Nurse IV. The team members were: Sarah James, BSN, RN, CCRN – NSICU Assistant Nurse Manager, Morgan McGraw, BSN, RN – NSICU CAUTI Representative and Erin Pearson, BSN, RN – ECU Health Medical Center Office of Quality.

ECU Health Chowan Hospital award winners and presenters from left: Dr. Niti Armistead, Pam Ward, Brittany Proctor, Courtnay Hale, Dana Byrum and Theresa Anderson.

ECU Health Chowan Hospital – Catheter Associated Urinary Tract Infection (CAUTI) Prevention in the Inpatient Setting. The project leaders were: Courtnay Hale, BSN, RN – Manager of ICU/MedSurge, Dana Byrum, DNP – Vice President, Patient Care Services and Matthew Rapp, MD – Hospitalist Director and Beverly Venters, MSN – Quality Director. The team members were: Brittany Proctor, BSN, RN, Pam Ward, ICP, Katie Hall, QNSIII.

ECU Health Bertie – Family Medicine, Windsor award winners and presenters from left: Dr. Niti Armistead, Kristin Woodard, Kelsey Gurganus, Dana Byrum and Theresa Anderson.

ECU Health Ambulatory – ECU Health Bertie – Family Medicine, Windsor – Improving Diabetes Management in the Ambulatory Setting. The project leaders were: Kristin Woodard, MSN, RN – Education Nurse Specialist, Phillip Harris, MD and Kelsey Gurganus, MSN, RN – Manager of Family Medicine, Windsor. The team members were: Erica Ford, PA, Teddie Gore, NP, Jesse Ann Hamilton, NP and all staff of Family Medicine, Windsor.

To receive this honor, team members submitted projects that demonstrated at least two of the following requirements:

  • Quantifiable improvement in an organizational quality priority with sustained excellence over time
  • Demonstration of empathy and compassion in patient care
  • Implementation of innovative solutions to patient care problems
  • Community outreach that addresses the social determinants of health in a meaningful way

“We are proud of our teams who dedicate themselves to improving patient care in eastern North Carolina,” said Robert Greczyn, chair, ECU Health Board of Directors. “The Board Quality Leadership Awards symbolize the excellence and compassion our team members demonstrate every single day as they care for our patients across our region. On behalf of the Board, we are grateful to all ECU Health team members for their tireless efforts in delivering excellence in rural care and helping us meet our mission to improve the health and well-being of the region.”

Awards | Family Medicine & Primary Care | Neurology