Brody Scholars reflect on medical school journey — from white coat to Match Day

There’s a good chance you don’t remember Aug. 4, 2017, or the fact that it was a Friday. But for 82 Brody School of Medicine students, it was a big day they won’t forget as they began their medical school journey.

“You’re on stage and everyone’s watching you,” said student Lindsey Burleson. “I just remember it feeling so awkward and uncomfortable the first time I put on that starchy coat.”

The annual white coat ceremony at East Carolina University is held at the beginning of the first year of medical school. It is the first time the students wear the white coat that signifies their profession. They then recite the medical student pledge.

“Just the weight of those words at that ceremony was really the one of the bigger impacts for me — just recognizing really what the journey I was about to start,” said student Jessie Tucci-Herron.

View this video on YouTube for closed-captioning.

Tucci-Herron, Burleson and their best friend, Ann Tooley, are also 2021 Brody Scholars — the most distinguished medical scholarship at ECU. But even with all the hard work and knowledge that went into becoming Brody Scholars, that ceremony brought some fears.

“Everyone has this imposter syndrome. It’s not really a ‘fake it until you make it’ kind of thing,” Burleson said. “It’s more of a ‘fake it until you become it’ in medical school.”

Over four years of medical school, things change and the imposter syndrome fades away.

You grow into the white coat. I feel very prepared, very ready and super excited to start the next part of my life.
- Lindsey Burleson, Brody School of Medicine student

“When you first start it seems daunting and overwhelming and you wonder how you’ll ever finish,” Tooley said. “And then somehow you turn around and it’s been four years and you did.”

“I look back on who I was when I first put on that white coat and I’m much less scared, much more confident,” said Burleson.

Tooley, Burleson and Tucci-Herron will receive their medical degrees on May 7, when they will officially earn the title “doctor.”

“It’s incredible that it’s actually here,” Tooley said. “You’ve actually been working toward it your whole life. … It’s not just been the past four years, it’s been college, it’s been before that — whenever you made this decision that you were going to pursue this field — the culmination of years and years and years of hard work.”

Best friends from the beginning of medical school, 2021 Brody Scholars (from left to right) Lindsey Burleson, Jessie Tucci-Herron and Ann Tooley will soon begin their residency programs as physicians. *All three have been vaccinated for COVID-19. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

That hard work will send Tooley to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington for her OB/GYN residency. Burleson will have an OB/GYN residency in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Tucci-Herron is heading north for a residency in family medicine at UPMC St. Margaret Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

While they are heading their separate ways, the best friends — united by the Brody Scholars program — will continue to chat via their group text.

“I don’t think we have a group name,” Burleson said.

“No,” laughed Tucci-Herron.

“Not that we’ve coined yet, but it’s never too late,” Tooley added.

Since 2017, the classmates have made it through the ups and downs of medical school — not to mention a global pandemic — and have come out the other side as physicians.

“It’s been a balancing act of trying to weigh school and life and everything that is going on,” said Tucci-Herron said. “Just figuring out what my goals are and who I want to be as a doctor and a person.”

“You grow into the white coat,” Burleson said. “I feel very prepared, very ready and super excited to start the next part of my life.”

Since the program began in 1983, Brody Scholars have continued to succeed as compassionate healers and community leaders who embody the medical school’s mission of improving the health and quality of life for people in eastern North Carolina. The program was established by the Brody family as part of its long-standing commitment to the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.