ECU graduates make an impact across the state :: WRAL.com

By Abbey Slattery, WRAL Digital Solutions

This article was written for our sponsor, East Carolina University.

Home to the Brody School of Medicine, the School of Dental Medicine, the College of Nursing and the College of Allied Health Sciences, Greenville’s East Carolina University is the No. 1 producer of health sciences professionals in the state.

By giving students hands-on instruction through a variety of school-run clinics, the school is emphasizing the importance of practicing in the North Carolina communities where the need is greatest.

The School of Dental Medicine

While the School of Dental Medicine is based in Greenville, it operates eight service learning centers across the state, from Sylva to Elizabeth City. These service learning centers give students hands-on experience in rural communities that would otherwise not have easy access to dental care.

“Those practices are integral parts of our program, and our seniors spend 60% of their time there. We also provide a significant amount of care across the state in those clinics — to date, we’ve seen about 86,000 patients, and many times those patients come back multiple times. About 30% of those 86,000 patients are on Medicaid,” said Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the School of Dental Medicine. “These community service learning centers are almost like mini dental schools.”

The service learning centers always have two faculty members, 12 staff, four rotating dental students and two advanced education and general dentistry residents. The advanced residents spend an entire year at the centers, getting more hands-on experience before graduating.

Since the service learning centers are oftentimes one of the few or only dental practices in their communities, students get experience in running an actual dental practice. Each day varies based on the needs of the patients, whether it’s adjusting dentures or performing a root canal.

In North Carolina, 78 out of 100 of the state’s counties are rural, and roughly 25% of those counties have fewer than two dentists per 100,000 residents.

“We’ve gone to communities where there is a significant need, and we impact them because we’re a resource out there. There’s a significant need, and we’re improving the health care infrastructure. In addition to the care, our students are out in those communities for nine weeks, acting as four young ambassadors for oral health,” said Chadwick. “They can be role models for individuals in those communities and help others realize, ‘Hey, there’s somebody that is not much older than me, that looks like me, and they’ve gone to college and now they’re out practicing dentistry in my community. Maybe I could do something like that, too.’”

The College of Allied Health Sciences

Allied health professionals – those who work in nutrition science, physical and occupational therapy, addiction and rehabilitation studies, clinical laboratory sciences and more – are a critical part of the healthcare workforce and one of the greatest areas of job growth over the next 10 years.

“What the pandemic has proven to us is that you can’t achieve things like economic and social advancement if you can’t ensure the health, wellness and safety of communities. It’s our mission to collaborate with medicine, dentistry, nursing, education, business, arts and sciences, because together is how we really meet that mission of transforming the region,” said Robert F. Orlikoff, Ph.D., dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences. “We’re the largest comprehensive college of allied health professions in the state of North Carolina. We produce more allied health professionals than anyone else in North Carolina, and our graduates tend to stay and work in North Carolina. More than half of them stay and work in eastern North Carolina.”

While the College of Allied Health Sciences doesn’t currently offer service learning centers like the dental school, there are clinics at ECU that students regularly rotate through. These clinics offer service to the community in areas such as speech and hearing, clinical counseling and occupational therapy. The college even has a student-run physical therapy clinic that is managed by students from top to bottom.

The services at all of the clinics are offered pro bono as a benefit to the greater community.

“We’re meeting our mission, because we’re counseling people for addictions, for mental health, for rehabilitation — people who just have a great deal of stress, which is pretty common during the pandemic and will be for some time. They would not have any resources for getting those counseling services anywhere else, so this is a way in which the college lives its mission of outreach and transformation,” said Orlikoff. “One of the things about East Carolina University and our college, in particular, is that we’ve been on the forefront of distance education and telehealth services, so we provide these counseling services in person in the building, but also through a telecounseling. These are major outreach efforts, and it’s true to who we are, the needs of our community and the mission of ECU.”

The college is also looking at developing more interprofessional education, which will bring students from all types of disciplines — from clinical lab personnel to occupational therapists — together to interact, collaborate and provide a more holistic system of care.

The allied health clinics also help students find placement for future careers. In fact, many graduates end up staying in one of the 29 counties that make up eastern North Carolina.

“They fall in love with our mission, the region and the communities. Some of our students come to us because they’re seeking a job in health care. What we’re able to show them is they can build a meaningful career in health care and make a real difference,” said Orlikoff. “By far the majority of our graduates stay and work in North Carolina, and the biggest achievement is that more than half stay and work in eastern North Carolina. It’s not as flashy as some other areas of North Carolina or the country, and these students have choices to go elsewhere. But the fact that they choose to stay and work on behalf of those who are in such great need of health care really shows a dedication to our local mission.”

Brody School of Medicine

For 40 years, the Brody School of Medicine has been focused on its mission to create physicians for North Carolina that primarily serve rural, underserved markets. The school only accepts students from North Carolina, and by the time they graduate, the faculty hope to see them develop a strong commitment to care in the state.

“Proportionally, we are one of the leading producers of physicians for the state of North Carolina. We also have a mission to improve the health of eastern North Carolina and give access to medical education to underrepresented groups. All of those come together to create physicians that stay in the state,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, dean of the Brody School of Medicine. “I always say we’re the highest-value medical school in the country. If you look at the amount of investment that is made to produce a doctor that stays in the state, we are a leader in that area.”

Experiential learning plays a significant role in preparing students for life after graduation. Students of the Brody School of Medicine get out into local communities and health care delivery organizations, working with ECU faculty and other physicians to get real-world experience. Under the umbrella of primary care, students can complete residencies in family medicine, pediatrics, sports medicine and more, many of which are hosted at ECU facilities, allowing them to dip their toes in the waters of varying disciplines.

While medical school is often thought to be expensive, the Brody School of Medicine regularly ranks as one of the most affordable options.

“We have a medical education that’s very affordable and allows students to come out with a very low debt level compared to other medical schools. Our students come out with a debt level of around $90,000, but the average for the country is $250,000. For other students, they come out of medical school with this big burden,” said Waldrum. “At ECU, our lower cost frees up our young professionals to go after what they want to go after, since they’re not pressured as much from that financial burden. That frees them up to go into primary care and follow their passions. It’s part of a formula that drives success and gives value back to the state.”

This article was written for our sponsor, East Carolina University.

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