Student: Kayla Gorham
Kayla Gorham breaks into a smile as she perches on the edge of a chair in the second-floor rotunda of Ross Hall, looking out at the green expanse that stretches between the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine and the rest of the Health Sciences Campus.
The rotunda — usually bustling with students meeting for lunch, studying or catching up with friends — is quiet; Gorham has stopped in during a break to sign a copy of the children’s book she authored. She collects her thoughts and smiles wide as she surveys the empty hallways.
“I feel like this is where I belong,” Gorham said, referring to both Ross Hall and the profession of dentistry.
Gorham, a Rocky Mount native, is on a journey that has branched down paths of rigorous academics, artistic expression and self-exploration. A member of the school’s Class of 2025, Gorham is a dynamo — an actively mission-focused future dentist ready to make a difference through knowledge and her own creative brand of vision.
When she was little, her trips to the dentist’s office were not tear-filled chores; instead, Gorham was fascinated by every move her dentist, Frank Courts, made. She would ask questions; he would explain each step of the procedure and show her the tools he used for his profession. She soon knew it would also be her profession.
“My dentist was just awesome,” she said. “I’d be literally almost in his lap trying to talk to him and ask questions. He just made me feel so comfortable that I thought maybe I want to do the same thing. I realized how much I’d be able to help people and how much of an impact dentists have on the community.”
That desire to reach in and help heal communities is also what drew Gorham to ECU after earning her degree in biology from Wake Forest University, where she also completed minors in chemistry and creative writing.
“I just love what the School of Dental Medicine is all about,” she said. “The whole mission is built around serving the underserved and creating leaders that will go out and serve them. That speaks to me because my grandmother ended up suffering from dental issues that caused her to lose her teeth by the time she was my age. She just didn’t have access to the care she needed, and that evolved. It really hits close to home for me, coming here and knowing that the expectation, the standard, is to go out and serve those who wouldn’t have care otherwise.”
After graduation, Gorham, now a third-year dental student, is considering going back to Rocky Mount to practice at the city’s Opportunities Industrialization Center, an organization that provides workforce development for Edgecombe, Nash, Wilson, Halifax and Northampton counties and offers a variety of human services centered on meeting the socioeconomic and health needs of Rocky Mount’s Black community.
“It’s just an awesome organization, and I was able to volunteer there prior to coming to dental school so I have a feel for how the clinic runs,” she said. “I’m not saying I’ll stay there for my entire career, but it would be nice to go back there and serve.”
So far, dental school has proved fruitful for Gorham in a well-balanced way.
“When I came to dental school, I wanted to make my lifelong friends here, the ones who will be in my wedding, who will go through hard times with me,” she said. “And in clinic so far, I’ve had some really good experiences too. I enjoy talking to patients, particularly the older patients. A lot of times they need someone to listen and let them know they’re important and they matter. I definitely think I could see all ages of patients in my future practice, but I have a special place in my heart for the older and younger populations; I feel like I can connect with them.”
In fact, Gorham has memorialized a message to young people — and all those who need to hear her message — in her children’s book, “The Special One,” which was published in 2022.
“It was always my dream to publish a book since I was a little girl,” she said, patting the glossy cover of the paperback book. “Having an outlet outside of the science world has been really refreshing. They’re so different, science and art, but I feel like dentistry is a good combination of both.”
The book centers on a bright star who is reluctant to let her light shine; when she does, it is revealed that she is the sun.
“The book is all about shining your inner light and not being afraid to be different from everyone else,” Gorham said. “The book is about me; but it’s also about whoever is reading it. Anyone can put themselves in the place of that star. You realize, ‘I don’t fit in because I’m not meant to.’”
Gorham has read the book to several classes of elementary schoolchildren in Rocky Mount, another dream come true for her. She hopes the message in her book and example of her dental school journey will resonate with young people still figuring out their purpose.
“It’s really fulfilling that children understand the book and the concept,” she said. “They do get the message, and I hope it leaves a lasting impact.”
Name: Kayla Gorham
College: School of Dental Medicine
Major: Dental Medicine
Classification/Year: Second-year doctoral student
Hometown: Rocky Mount, N.C.
Hobbies/interests: Blogging, reading, community outreach, dance and cooking
Clubs and Organizations: Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Student Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Student National Dental Association, ECU Special Care Dentistry
Favorite hangout: Hosting friends at my apartment
Favorite place on campus: Health Sciences Student Center gym
Favorite place to eat: Kasturi Indian Restaurant
Favorite class: Infectious Disease
Professor who influenced you the most: Paul Lindauer, director of the endodontics division
Favorite TV show: “Bridgerton”
Favorite band/musician: Pink Sweat$
Favorite movie: “The Chronicles of Narnia”
Favorite app: TikTok
Dream job: Dentist/social media influencer
Role model: Michelle Obama
Your words to live by: “To accomplish what few people accomplish, you must do what few are willing to do.”
What advice do you have for other students? Remember who you are, embrace your God-given purpose and don’t let anything or anyone compromise that.
What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year? Several mascots came before the PeeDee the Pirate.