ON THE AIR
"N.C. Now" on UNC-TV will air a profile of Sears at 7:30 p.m. April 15.
His students appreciate Sears’ realistic approach to very practical situations they will be dealing with as professionals and leaders.
“Dr. Sears teaches his students to understand that new technologies are not something to cower from,” said doctoral student Kate Cutitta, “but to embrace and understand completely. Without patient psychological security and acceptance of medical devices, hard work of the medical team is futile.”
Cutitta, who plans to pursue a career working with young adults with congenital heart diseases, said learning from someone of Sears’ caliber is a statement to the quality of opportunity at ECU. “ECU may often be overlooked, but it is a powerhouse of resources that cannot be reckoned with,” she said. “ECU has an obligation to make a name for itself, and Dr. Sears is paving the way.”
Doctoral student Kevin Woodrow said both the passion and sense of inclusion Sears uses in his teaching engages students to be confident in patient care. “He provides opportunity for student input and discussion, making learning much more collaborative,” Woodrow said.
ECU’s fully accredited clinical health psychology program allows students to be a part of an emerging field that prepares them to work as clinicians. They are trained to foresee technological advances in medicine and strategize how best to apply them to psychological treatment.
East Carolina University also is capitalizing on the fact that psychology is steadily becoming considered part of the core science, technology, engineering and mathematics discipline, said Dr. Susan McCammon, professor and interim chair of the Department of Psychology.
“This is important because psychologists not only contribute directly to scientific innovations,” she said, “but they also help other scientists understand how human behavior and emotions influence the application and acceptance of technology.”
Connecting technology and humanity
On campus, Sears meets with students in his ECU memorabilia-covered office in Rawl Building. Later the same day, he greets patients and stops for a scholarly discussion with colleagues at the East Carolina Heart Institute.
He works to create ties between the Brody School of Medicine and the East Carolina Heart Institute and the main campus. His work makes connections between medicine and social sciences that have key implications for patient treatment and outlook.
|Sears said that scientists must understand how patients' emotions and behavior affect their use of medical technology.
“ECU has strengths in both campuses,” Sears said.
“Programs like ours tend to capitalize on that. Health psychology integrates biological and psychosocial variables and components that represent a truly state-of-the-art approach to human health.”
Sears’ work produces outcomes using disciplines frequently thought to be unrelated, said ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard.
“Psychology and cardiology are not readily related in the public’s mind,” Ballard said, “yet by connecting them, Sears’ work has improved lives and added to the body of knowledge about both disciplines.”
Sears believes the O. Max Gardner Award highlights not only how professionals at the very highest levels of their fields can work together for the greater good, but also how North Carolina’s investments—like the East Carolina Heart Institute—are making sizeable returns to the state’s citizens.
“The East Carolina Heart Institute is fulfilling its mission of serving North Carolinians,” he said, “with both state-of-the-art research and clinical care.”
Roddy Jones, ECU alumnus and former member of both ECU’s Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors, has long been a supporter of Sears’ work as well as the opportunity for major breakthroughs it brings to the university and the medical school. “This is a special grail that East Carolina can be proud of,” Jones said, “that one of its own is being recognized by the system and beyond the system.”
Although not a patient of Sears, Jones lives with an ICD and therefore appreciates Sears’ efforts on a deeper level. During normal check-ups, he has asked technicians and cardiologists if they’ve heard of Sears. The answer is always the same: “He is the utmost spokesperson for the device in the world” regarding the ICD that the professionals work with every day.
Jones is not surprised when he hears that answer. “He has a unique ability to see through and grasp things that are problems for most people,” he said, “but for him it’s an opportunity for a solution.”
The O. Max Gardner Award was created through the will of Oliver Max Gardner, the late senator, lieutenant governor and governor of North Carolina. The 2013 award carries a $20,000 cash prize. It is the only award for which all faculty members at all 16 university-system institutions are eligible.
Sears is the eighth ECU professor to earn the O. Max Gardner and only the second psychologist to win since the award’s creation in 1949. Most recently, he joins Chitwood and Dr. Walter J. Pories, who was named the winner for biochemistry in 2001.
Other past ECU professors awarded the O. Max Gardner Award are William E. Laupus, 1989, medicine; Edgar Loessin, 1986, theater; Stanley R. Riggs, 1983, geology; Francis Speight, 1975, art; and Ovid Williams Pierce, 1973, literature.