ECU medical students honor patients who taught them lessons about learning, life

Ernestine Wilkins couldn’t recall having ever won anything — until Brody School of Medicine student Shahzeb Khan chose to honor her for the impact she had on his path as a future doctor and for teaching him lessons only a patient can.

The first time Khan walked into Wilkins’ hospital room, he thought he was thoroughly prepared to discuss her case. When she kindly corrected him on some details of her treatment, it stopped Khan in his tracks.

“I only worked with her for an hour total, but she changed the way I interact with patients,” Khan said. “She showed me that we really need to focus on treating the patient and not the disease.”

Legacy Teacher Seamus Phillips and student

Brody student John Hurley pauses to visit with his Legacy Teacher Seamus Phillips.

Twenty-five former Vidant Medical Center patients—deemed Legacy Teachers—were honored during Brody and Vidant Health’s inaugural Legacy Teachers Celebration at the Rock Springs Center on April 9.

“I’m just so excited about it,” said Wilkins, of Conetoe, who had recently battled breast cancer when her path crossed with Khan’s. “I’m just glad that I could help somebody. It really made me feel like I’d finally won something.”

Lessons beyond the books

More than 300 people – including patients, family members and representatives from Brody and Vidant – gathered at the Rock Springs Center to honor these meaningful student-patient bonds.

As each Legacy Teacher was recognized, he or she also received a token piece of artwork created especially for the event by local artist Trevor van Meter.

“Our Legacy Teachers mean so much to us because they teach us to express who we are; they are important to our own humanity,” said Dr. Mark Stacy, dean of Brody. “They have taught our students to be their best selves and to make the world a better place. This event also celebrates the unique and wonderful collaboration between a health care system and a medical school.”

Vidant Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum echoed the importance of the partnership between students and patients, and between Brody and Vidant Health.

“I absolutely love health care because it’s about taking care of each other,” Waldrum said. “That is a sacred and special thing, and this event embodies that.”

The idea for a Legacy Teachers Celebration came from conversations between Susan Schmidt, dean of Brody’s Office of Student Affairs; Julie Oehlert, chief experience officer at Vidant Health; Ann Wall, Legacy Teachers coordinator in Brody’s Office of Student Affairs; and Elizabeth Baxley, senior associate dean for academic affairs at Brody. The concept borrowed the framework of a similar program at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine.

“This program recognizes that the most effective and memorable teachers for our students are our patients,” Oehlert said. “It honors these sacred student-patient relationships and the attributes of care, compassion and communication that will be carried with the students throughout their medical careers.”

Brody Dean Dr. Mark Stacy addresses the crowd.

Brody Dean Dr. Mark Stacy addresses the crowd at the inaugural Legacy Teachers Celebration on April 9.

Schmidt told the patients that their role in medical education was both rewarding and critical.

“The focus on relationships in learning brings satisfaction, and might we say joy, to both a patient and a student of medicine…” she said. “We thank you for teaching our future physicians.”

‘Why I went into medicine’

Before the luncheon, students gathered at the entrance to welcome their Legacy Teachers. Their faces brightened when they caught sight of their patients.

Natalie Broadway-Robertson was all smiles as she guided her Legacy Teacher, Michael Wood, to his table.

Broadway-Robertson first met the Skippers, Virginia, resident while she was on a surgical rotation. As she memorized Wood’s vital signs and test results day after day, she came to know him as someone who was overcoming health care hurdles with grace and resilience.

“All of a sudden in third-year, there was this collision of what we had been learning and a real person,” Broadway-Robertson said. “It was very much a wake-up call for why I went into medicine in the first place.”

Consola Esambe Lobwede met her Legacy Teacher, Rocky Mount resident Donald Hall, during a cardiology rotation and learned he had atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase the risk of stroke. During his hospital stay, she talked to him about the consequences of untreated a-fib and gave him information to read about the condition.

“When I came in about 30 minutes later, Mr. Hall’s eyes were wide in disbelief,” Esambe Lobwede said. “He said, ‘I just didn’t know.’ That was when our relationship really started. I realized we really do make a difference in patients’ lives.”

When she greeted Hall and his wife, Nancy, on Monday, her bond with them was palpable.

“You’re Consola and you console souls,” Nancy Hall said, leaning toward Esambe Lobwede and holding her gaze. “The eyes are windows into the soul, and you looked right at him and knew his fear and anxiety.”

“But I didn’t do anything special!” Esambe Lobwede said, laughing.

“You just don’t know,” Nancy Hall said, glancing at her husband, who nodded his agreement. “You just don’t know. You just keep right on doing what it is you’re doing.”

(Video by Bandit Design Studios)