Hidden History: The Legacy of Dr. Paul Cunningham

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As you look back through history, historical figures have reshaped, elevated and reached to new heights during tough times.

Often times, we are fortunate to listen to their unique perspectives to hear how they reached their full potential.

Dr. Paul Cunningham is a medical trailblazer who worked tirelessly to provide for all patients including African Americans right here in the East.

Dr. Paul Cunningham describes himself as a ‘country boy from Jamaica’.

As he remembers his  Jamaican roots, he recalls his first crack at medicine at 6-years-old.

“I use to make little models with clay and operate on them,” said Dr. Cunningham.

A long and historical career would follow.

Dr. Cunningham became the first African American president of the North Carolina Medical Society in 2016.

In 2008, he became the fifth dean of East Carolina’s Brody School of Medicine.

“I think the influence really came from my grandfather and from our family doctor,” said Dr. Cunningham.

Role models taught him early lessons about success.

“When I first started practicing medicine, I felt like there was no hurdle ahead of me that I couldn’t overcome,” said Dr. Cunningham.

From there, his academic career soured. Dr. Cunningham graduated from high school and college and landed in New York City.

“I’ve never seen snow before in my life,” said Dr. Cunningham. “Living in an apartment, I grew up in a rural environment on four acres of land.”

The transition proving to be challenging.

“I had a very broad exposure but clearly it was a challenge,” said Dr. Cunningham. “I went from small-town Jamaica to 5th Avenue.”

Dr. Cunningham completed his residency at Mount Sinai, and would soon start working in Harlem.

A change that made his transition to Bertie County in 1981,  seamless. Dr. Cunningham took on the roles of Vice-Chief of Medical Staff at Bertie Memorial Hospital.

“I went from a predominately African America environment to another predominately African American environment struggling many times,” said Dr. Cunningham. “We had a drug epidemic at that time.”

The landscape of the east was similar to Jamaica.

Dr. Cunningham’s start at Bertie Memorial marked a lengthy career in Eastern North Carolina.

“Everything that I’ve accomplished in life has been related to other relationships and the teams that have supported me and that I supported,” said Dr. Cunningham.

While making in his role, Dr. Cunningham has picked up several honors along the way.

Dr. Cunningham received the state’s order of the longleaf pine.

An honor given by the Governor of North Carolina.

Dr. Cunningham’s main focus these days is on family, as he’s retired.

“My family has been long-suffering; but, the part that was missing was me,” said Dr. Cunningham.  “But, they’ve been the most supportive people that I’ve had the privilege of having a relationship all of my life, particularly my wife.”

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