Three-time ECU graduate focuses on serving eastern North Carolina patients

Dr. Stephen Manning began his education at East Carolina University as an undergraduate after he and his high school sweetheart — now wife — chose to attend ECU together over other in-state schools.

The Williamston native admittedly did not have the best grades in high school, but he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in health care because he wanted to be able to help other people.

During his first year at ECU, after having the opportunity to work and learn in a doctor’s office, he realized that his goal was to be a primary care physician.

“That is when I really hunkered down, began to hit the books and get all of the courses in place to be able to apply to medical school,” Manning said.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology from ECU, which is less than 30 miles from his hometown, he toyed with the idea of venturing away from eastern North Carolina for medical school and visited other possible destinations.

“Ultimately, I realized that the things I wanted and the future I wanted were really right here in my own backyard,” Manning said. “There was a great medical school here, with a great reputation and a primary care focus. It was a perfect fit for me.”

Manning went on to complete both his medical school and residency training at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine.

“I loved my time at Brody. Compared to most medical schools, it had a smaller class size and that was a good thing, because the interactions with the faculty and clinical staff were all great,” said Manning, a graduate of Brody’s Class of 2008. “They had a lot of resources to help. Professors would stay late and meet you in the lab to go over whatever you needed. And I feel that that was a huge benefit about being at Brody.”

Not long into his medical career, Manning realized how well Brody prepared him to handle any situation. This realization came while he was working in the emergency department of a small eastern North Carlina hospital the night of a large Fourth of July celebration.

Manning talks with a patient in his Williamston, North Carolina family medicine clinic.

“That emergency department would usually see about 24 patients in 24 hours. That night it was more than double; I saw all kinds of things. I had young patients come in who had massive lacerations from various things they were doing. I had a young guy with a (diabetic muscle infarction) come in. I even delivered the first baby in that hospital’s emergency department in like five or 10 years,” he said. “After that night I emailed several of my faculty at Brody to tell them what my night looked like and said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I was well prepared. You did everything you needed to do to teach me how to address those things.’ That was a good experience for me. I felt prepared to come back to Williamston and provide excellent primary care, and I’m still doing that today.”

After finishing his residency training, Manning again chose to stay in eastern North Carolina to practice. He worked with the local hospital to open a family medicine practice in Martin County and then a few years later he ventured out on his own to open an independent, subscription-based family medicine practice in his hometown.

“Chronic disease management and primary care prevention are two of the parts of primary care that I like doing the most. I like focusing in on management plans and preventive measures to make sure we’re keeping patients healthy as possible,” he said. “Martin County and eastern North Carolina are great places to do that. We have lot of chronic disease management, diabetes, COPD and hypertension. And so, I knew that coming back to my hometown that there would be ample opportunity for that.”

Manning credited Brody’s low cost of tuition for helping him be able to open his own family medicine practice in an underserved community like Williamston, instead of being forced to consider pursuing a higher-paying specialty or practicing in a more affluent community due to student loan debt.

“I know a lot of colleagues who are a couple of million dollars, or at least several hundred thousand dollars, in debt when they come out of residency. Thankfully, my loans from Brody were low enough that I was able to pay them off in about eight years and had the flexibility to really choose my own path,” he said.  “I think students who look at Brody and can see that aspect, the fact that their finances will be better off going to Brody — and combine that with the stellar academics and the focus on primary care — you’ve got a win-win.”

Manning said is meaningful to him to be an example of Brody’s mission to increase the supply of primary care physicians to serve North Carolina and improve the health status of residents in the East.

“I was one of the people that this mission was designed for. I grew up in a small town like Williamston, I had aspirations of being a doctor and there was this medical school in my backyard that said, ‘Yes, absolutely, come here. We want you here,’” he said. “My desire to do this was reinforced by the reality that there is a medical school here with this mission. So, we sort of locked arms in a sense. I’m living the dream that I had in high school, even on bad days, and that was made much more possible by Brody.”