ECU medical students celebrate Match Day with drive-thru event

Fourth-year medical students at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine learned on Friday where they will spend the next several years of their lives.

As part of the annual Match Day event, medical students across the United States were notified at noon – through letters or emails – where they will be completing their residency training.

ECU usually hosts the highly anticipated Match Day ceremony in the Brody Auditorium in front of family, friends and faculty. For a second straight year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Brody’s medical students to celebrate the occasion differently.

Even without the traditional celebration – and despite inclement weather – the day’s excitement rang from ECU’s Health Sciences Campus as dozens of faculty and staff cheered as the students drove up to receive their envelopes.

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Some were holding signs and ringing cowbells, while others lined up in front of the Brody Medical Sciences Building to congratulate each of the students as they drove by.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unique challenges and experiences to our educational program. Through it all we have been able to keep the class of 2021 moving to graduate on time,” said Dr. Kendall Campbell, Brody’s senior associate dean for academic affairs. “Today as we celebrate Match Day with them, we are so very excited and happy to see their resilience and encourage their transition into their next phase of training.”

In keeping with Brody’s mission to address North Carolina’s need for more primary care physicians, more than 58% of the soon-to-be residents – all of whom are from North Carolina – will be entering primary care residencies. This includes 14 students in family medicine, 13 in internal medicine, 10 in pediatrics and eight in obstetrics and gynecology.

Thirty-five percent will remain in North Carolina to complete residencies.

“A dream come true”

Rocky Mount resident Brittany Lee has known since a young age that she wanted to be a doctor, but it took years of hard work and determination during the gap between her graduating from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2009 and being accepted to medical school in 2016.

She took post-graduate courses to improve her science skills and participated in pre-medical school training programs, including Brody’s Summer Program for Future Doctors.

So when she received the acceptance email from the Brody School of Medicine, it was a dream come true.

Brittany Lee receives her Match Day envelope during a drive-thru event at the Brody School of Medicine. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

“I was just praying that this was what I had been waiting for. And sure enough, it said ‘congratulations’ and I cried for a second, because it was a dream come true,” said Lee, who was alone in her car when she found out.

On Friday, Lee once again found herself anxiously waiting to open a letter and hoping the message inside was a happy one.

For the past four years, Lee has lived a few hours away from her now-husband, Demarko, who lives in Charlotte. The couple was married in October 2020 and Lee hoped to match at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte so they could finally be together again.

“While that is my number one choice, I truly believe that wherever I am accepted that that’s the plan God has for me and that his plan is better than any possible plan that I can dream of,” Lee said.

Lee’s dreams came true again on Match Day – this time as she was surrounded by family and friends at a local hotel – when she matched to her top choice and to a residency program in family medicine.

She said her journey before and during medical school, including the last year receiving her medical education during a pandemic, will better prepare her and her fellow classmates to serve patients in the future.

“You always have to be adaptive to change in this profession. You have to be able to take what is being given to you and make the best of it,” Lee said. “This what our class has done and I think that will only make us better physicians, and I am excited to see where they all end up.”

Staying local

Brandon Fox, a first-generation college graduate from Kannapolis, received a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from East Carolina University in 2015 and then decided to pursue a career in medicine after spending time working as an occupational therapist.

“I really enjoyed working with people and wanted to learn more about the patients I was treating from a therapeutic standpoint,” he said.

Fourth-year medical student Brandon Fox receives his Match Day envelope during a drive-thru event at the Brody School of Medicine.) (Photo by Rhett Butler)

While at Brody, Fox said he was drawn to emergency medicine.

“A lot of it, to be honest, was the people I worked with at ECU and in our emergency department. I just felt my personality meshed well with the people down there,” he said. “And I liked the fast-paced nature of emergency medicine, where you never really know what is coming through the door and you have to be the one who starts the diagnostic process.”

Because of how comfortable he felt with the team at ECU and Vidant Medical Center, as well as the fact he could not complete rotations at other hospitals due to the pandemic, Fox said his top choice was to stay in Greenville for residency.

“My family and I have lived here since 2014, so I’ve kind of grown attached to Greenville. My wife, Brittenee, has a good job here and my son, Connor, is in daycare here and he’s made some good friends,” he said.

Even if he were to match to an out-of-state residency program, Fox said that he would definitely come back to North Carolina to practice medicine.

“It’s very important for me to serve the people here. I know the disparities that are prevalent within our communities, and I feel like I would be able to help remedy some of those,” he said. “I come from a lower middle-class family, so I feel like one of my strongest traits is being able to relate to people and their situation when explaining our management plan with them.”

Fox was one of 27 Brody students who matched to residency programs in North Carolina this year and one of six who matched at Vidant Medical Center and ECU. Since 2014, Brody has matched 214 students to residency programs in North Carolina, with 79 of those students staying in Greenville.

A new perspective

Jessie Tucci-Herron, Ann Tooley and Lindsey Burleson — best friends who were united by the Brody Scholars program — opened their envelopes together, sheltering from the rain and wind in a covered breezeway at ECU’s College of Allied Health Sciences.

A group of close to two dozen family members and friends joined them, and came prepared with congratulatory signs, a cowbell and a laptop to live-stream the celebration to other loved ones who were watching virtually.

You always have to be adaptive to change in this profession. You have to be able to take what is being given to you and make the best of it. This what our class has done and I think that will only make us better physicians, and I am excited to see where they all end up.
- Brittany Lee, Brody medical student

The group erupted with cheers of joy as each student opened their envelopes and enthusiastically announced where they would be going for their residency.

Tucci-Herron and Burleson learned they’ll be doing their residency in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Indianapolis, Indiana, respectively, while Tooley will do her residency in Wilmington, N.C.

“I was able to take a visit and it’s such a cool place,” said Tucci-Herron, who matched with UPMC St. Margaret’s Family Medicine Residency Program. “The program there is amazing – I love the program director there, so I’m really excited.”

Tooley, who matched with New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, was elated with the opportunity to stay in North Carolina.

“I’m going into OB/GYN, which is the best specialty I could imagine,” Tooley said. “I’m so excited, it’s just such a privilege. To get to serve the patients of North Carolina, it’s just really exciting. We’re going to the beach, so what could be better?”

Even though they are going to separate residency programs, the friends said their time at Brody and the experience of attending medical school during a pandemic provided them with a new perspective.

“It’s shown me what really matters — relationships with people and keeping the people you love close by,” Tucci-Herron said. “Also, just realizing how health care can have an impact in the world. Seeing how much this has affected people, I think getting our training at the beginning of this is going to really shape how I view medicine.”

Faculty and staff at the ECU Brody School of Medicine cheer as fourth-year medical students drove by to pick up their Match Day envelopes. (Photo by Rhett Butler)