ECU welcomes the most diverse class of medical students in its history

The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University officially welcomed the most diverse class of medical students in its 42-year history during its annual White Coat Ceremony on Friday morning.

In front of a crowd of more than 400 people, the incoming class of 86 medical students – all North Carolina residents – were individually donned with the white coats they will wear in patient care areas throughout their time at ECU.

More than half of this year’s class (51 percent) are minority students, and 33 percent are from minority groups – African-American, Native American and Hispanic or Latino – that the Association of American Medical Colleges considers “underrepresented in medicine.”

The class is also 55 percent female, ranges in age from 21 to 44 and collectively speaks at least 14 different languages.

Brody School of Medicine Class of 2022 medical students celebrate after the annual White Coat Ceremony. (ECU Photo by Rhett Butler)

Brody School of Medicine Class of 2022 medical students celebrate after the annual White Coat Ceremony. (ECU Photo by Rhett Butler)

“Because of this mix, we now have the ability to reach out to our own students to help us understand new languages, new customs, get new understandings or fix misunderstandings about what we do as medical doctors,” Dr. Claudia Daly, president of the Brody School of Medicine Alumni Society, told the students. “This class will be better prepared than any class we have ever had to care for the citizens of North Carolina.”

Ke’Asia Craig, an African-American student from Ahoskie, said that the diversity of this year’s class is particularly meaningful for her.

“I feel that by training diverse physicians, we’re better able to treat diverse patients,” Craig said. “You’re able to treat a population that you might not have been able to treat as well before, just because people are more comfortable with people they can relate to.”

K’Shylah Whitehurst receives her white coat. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

K’Shylah Whitehurst receives her white coat. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Not only does Craig want to help North Carolina’s diverse population upon becoming a doctor, she said she wants to practice in the rural areas of eastern North Carolina.

“Those are the most underserved areas. There’s not a lot there and usually they don’t get a lot of attention when it comes to health care. So I feel like the more people that you put into the community to work on the community, the better,” said Craig, one of four students from this year’s class accepted into Brody through ECU’s Early Assurance Program.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker – Dr. Toni Johnson, vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Brody – told the students that their experiences in medical school will change them in ways they never would have imagined.

“You’ll have an opportunity to actually become a better person along the journey. Don’t waste this unique experience,” Johnson said. “Yes, you’re on your way to becoming a physician. The white coat is a symbol of our profession; wear it with pride. More importantly, it’s a cloak of compassion. So every time you put it on, please remember … it is a privilege to see what we see, it is a privilege to hear what we hear and it is a privilege to do what we do.”

First-year student Duy Huynh, of Charlotte, said that being “coated” was the realization of something that he had been working toward for most of his life and that Brody’s mission to serve the underserved populations of North Carolina will now help him work toward becoming a good physician.

“I think Brody is one of the few schools where the mission really aligns with what it means to be a physician. It’s not just about medicine, it’s about being a part of the community and being more compassionate about the patients,” Huynh said. “Here they don’t just treat one patient or just their patients, they’re trying to help the entire community.”

Veronica Lavelle receives her white coat. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Veronica Lavelle receives her white coat. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

University of North Carolina-Wilmington graduate Ryan Hatfield said he chose Brody after taking part in its Summer Program for Future Doctors last summer.

“It pushed me because I took Block 1 and 2 classes over the summer that were very rigorous and it proved to me that medical school was right for me and that Brody was the place for me,” Hatfield said. “I loved it because I think that when I’m done here not only am I going to be a good doctor, I’m going to be a compassionate doctor.”

Brody’s Class of 2022 boasts 11 students who are the children of doctors, including two children of ECU medical alumni.

When Dr. Martin Williams was a Brody Scholar in the Class of 1989, he used to walk his dog on the wooded property behind the school of medicine – where ECU’s Health Sciences Student Center now stands.

It was in the gymnasium of that state-of-the-art building where Williams proudly watched his daughter, Ellen, receive a white coat of her own.

“It’s unbelievable, we’re just so proud of her. She’s worked so hard, so it’s a very happy day to see her put on the white coat,” said Williams, a psychiatrist in Smithfield. “But the most important thing for her to carry with moving forward is the mission. It’s not about me, it’s not about her. It’s about service and taking care of people in need of what she has to offer, regardless of their circumstances, or their backgrounds or their ability pay. Everybody has the right to quality health care.”

Ellen Williams graduated from ECU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology, as well as a bachelor’s in philosophy. But she said putting on her Brody white coat in front of her parents on Friday gave her the feeling that all of her hard work had finally paid off and that her future is about to take off.

While she said her father didn’t mandate that she attend Brody, she said he had been such an inspiration and role model to her that the choice was easy.

“I grew up hearing about Brody. When I was little I knew that the Brody School of Medicine was this incredible, wonderful place that Daddy went to,” Ellen Williams said. “So even before I saw Brody, I loved it. And it’s just so exciting to be here now, because when I’m walking around the building I can sort of feel him with me. It’s incredible.”