GREENVILLE, N.C. — The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University officially welcomed 89 new medical students — the most diverse class in the school’s history — during its annual White Coat Ceremony on Friday morning.
In front of a gymnasium full of approximately 700 family, friends and Brody faculty, the students were presented with the white coats they will wear in patient care areas throughout their time at ECU.
In his first White Coat Ceremony in his joint role as dean of the Brody School of Medicine and CEO of Vidant Health, Dr. Michael Waldrum congratulated the students for joining a medical school actively improving health in eastern North Carolina, that embraces diversity to increase opportunity and decrease disparities, and is training physicians who stay in North Carolina and serve people in the state, particularly in primary care and rural and underserved communities.
“It’s for North Carolina, by North Carolina. That’s the secret sauce,” Waldrum said. “We know that you’re committed to that mission and to carry the Brody tradition forward. It starts today with receiving your Brody School of Medicine white coat and extends into the future of your lifetime. That future is full of incredibly hard work, and it should be, because nothing of meaning comes easy. But also know that you can do it. We chose you because we know you can do it.”
All of the first-year medical students are North Carolina residents, who hail from 32 counties, and were chosen from a field of 1,220 applicants — also a record number for the school.
The class is 56% female and 35% of the class are from groups the Association of American Medical Colleges considers to be underrepresented in medicine — Black, Hispanic and Native American. Nearly 30% of the students reported being from disadvantaged backgrounds and 16% are first-generation college students. Class of 2025 members also speak 19 languages, in addition to English.
Obumneke Umerah, a Fayetteville native whose parents are Nigerian immigrants, said Brody’s commitment to diversity is not only important to him, but is also important to the patients he will one day serve.
“There are patients and people from all different backgrounds in medicine. And if we make up a greater portion of health care, we’ll be able to better reflect the patients that we serve, so there is no disconnect and the patient-physician relationship gets stronger,” Umerah said. “So it is great to be part of a class that is helping to close that gap.”
While the class is historically diverse, a desire to serve — particularly people in rural and underserved communities — is a cause that bonds them.
Cary resident Dana Shefet said that she has been drawn to the Brody School of Medicine and its mission since she first arrived at ECU as a 17-year-old undergraduate. Four years later, Shefet was one of four Brody Scholars to receive their white coat on Friday. The Brody Scholars Program is North Carolina’s most distinguished medical scholarship. It provides full tuition and fees and most living expenses for four years of medical school, allowing scholars to choose a medical specialty without the worry of debt after graduation.
“I really believe that ECU’s mission goes beyond the two lines on their website. They really believe in who they serve and what they do. I was able to see that through my undergrad work and my undergrad experiences serving the Greenville community. I am very excited to continue that and immerse myself into this community as a Brody Scholar,” Shefet said.
As is the case for all of the first-year medical students, it is too soon to tell what specialty Shefet will choose to practice. However, she is starting her medical education with a strong interest in family medicine and a desire to serve people in the East.
“One of the things I learned through shadowing ECU physicians as an undergraduate is that patients are more than just their current illness. They put into consideration a lot of different factors, such as geographical barriers to access to care,” she said. “This is something that I’ve been able to see, that the power of the white coat in these communities is immense because sometimes that is the only physician in the area around them. So I think being able to see the appreciation and need for physicians in this area, compared to my hometown of Cary, really solidified that this is where I hope to be.”