Above, Dr. Elizabeth Fry of Greenville talks with medical student Kelley Haven as part of a mentoring program funded by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. Mission magazine writer Marion Blackburn catches up with the group of medical students, including Haven, whom she interviewed last year as they embarked on medical school. Here's how they're doing.
Students confidently enter year two of medical school
By Marion Blackburn
What a difference a year makes. Gone are the overworked first-year medical students, and in their place are composed M2s ready for just about anything.
Last year, Mission magazine introduced four first-semester medical students. Since then, they’ve had a wild ride, but they have adapted and succeeded.
They’re focused and calm; they even find a free hour here and there.
During their second year, they’ll complete courses in microbiology, pathology and pharmacology. They’ll have an introduction to medicine and clinical skills. They’ll also prepare for step one of their licensing exam, which they’ll have to pass before they can continue. By July, they’ll be ready for clinical rotations.
While it’s a tough regimen, most students make it. Brody’s withdrawal and dismissal rate is only 3.24 percent, which is fewer than three students a year. Brody’s five-year average of 1.5 percent compares favorably with the national average of 2.8 percent.
A chance to travel
Diana Spell, 24, is a Brody Medical Scholar and graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, one of the nation's top historically black universities and one known for sending a high number of graduates into medicine.
During the summer, she traveled to Africa, fulfilling a long-held dream. Her Brody award funded five weeks in Senegal, during which time she volunteered as a teacher and camp mentor to girls. She worked with at-risk girls and women ages 14-21, helping raise awareness of environmental basics as well as self-awareness and empowerment. She also taught computer skills.
She thought she would be able to speak French with them, but found most people using a regional dialect known as Wolof.
"Senegal allowed me to appreciate the basic passions in life again – community and love, care and wisdom," Spell said. "I am more patient now, smile more, and have a genuine spark for meeting people just to experience life. Senegal taught me that the relationships you make are way more valuable than the clothes you wear or the car you drive."
Back in school, Spell grins when asked about how she's handling her course load and laughs at the thought of having a social life. "I figured out some organization," she said. "Sacrifices? I'm used to them." She does, however, make time for a reunion with friends once a year. Spell is originally from Raleigh.
Her level-headed approach allows her to study, hit the gym, talk to her mom and get to bed at "a reasonable hour," which is around 1 a.m. She's eating healthier foods, too.
"Now, I know it's doable," she says. "I'm not an obsessive-compulsive studier anymore, but I'm doing better."
Her medical interests are taking shape, too, and she's thinking about pursuing rheumatology. "I'm very passionate about lupus," she said, noting that two of her friends have this autoimmune disorder. She also feels pulled toward nephrology, thinking it will allow her to help those with late-stage kidney disease.
"You can always give people hope," she said.
'You get your priorities'
Hunter Mehaffey, 22, is enrolled in the university's "MD in seven" program, which allows motivated students to complete undergraduate and medical degrees in seven years through accelerated coursework.
In the spring, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology but was unable to attend the ceremony. "Graduation was a week before finals," he said. "We had an entire semester's worth of material, so it just wasn't worth it. But all the work paid off."
While he declined to reveal his grades, he's not complaining about them. "People don't like to discuss grades," he says. "The best rule of thumb is just don't."
Mehaffey was a competitive swimmer for ECU during his undergraduate years. Now that he's a full-time medical student, he no longer competes, but he coached a Greenville swim team this summer. He also runs, often for five, six, even eight miles. He's originally from Clyde, near the Tennessee border.
Looking ahead, he realizes how much information he has to learn and accepts that he can't master it all during two years of coursework. "I currently know enough to realize I know nothing," he said. "We're learning the language, so we can learn what we need to know."
Already, he's starting to think about his future – "I'm in a hurry," he said – and surgery has captured his imagination, despite its lengthy residency. "It's a skill you hone over years," he said.
Like his peers, he's found balance. "You get your priority list right," he said. "You figure out where med school belongs. You still have to clean your house and pay your bills. But a balanced life helps everything. Some people get too involved in studying, but you have to do other things, as well."
Is he enjoying himself? "We're living the dream," he said with a genuine smile.
After many years as an accountant, social worker and addiction counselor, Michael Weeks, 44, realized he really wanted to become a doctor. He entered medical school older than his classmates, but found the same lessons held true regardless of age.
Confident in his studies, he enjoyed an especially meaningful Christmas break last December.
"I made it through the first semester," he said. "I passed everything, and I got engaged. It was a happy time. Coming back, I felt like a different person. So much of the anxiety was gone."
Not that he's taking it easy. And he makes sure to share with his fiancée, Elisabeth, the considerable pressures he's under. Though it's nothing like the anxiety of the first year. Weeks is originally from Charlotte.
It's been a tremendous experience for him to volunteer at the Greenville Shelter Community Clinic and Grimesland Free Clinic.
"They have significant health problems," he said of the patients he saw. "It really opens your eyes and gives you a new perspective on what a ‘bad' day is. When I came home, I realized how much I took for granted. It was a very humbling experience and a great reminder of how privileged our lives are."
His medical goals reflect his long-standing interest in addiction treatment, and he's thinking about a primary care specialty or psychiatry. But he knows enough about life to understand all can turn on a dime.
"You realize how often life changes," he said. "I have a general idea of where I'm going. If I were in my 20s, I'd be in a hurry. But I have more serenity now."
These days, Kelley Haven, 25, is not only juggling medical school and personal obligations, but she's also a Blue Cross Blue Shield Family Medicine scholar.
And most importantly, she's a loving mom to sprightly, brown-haired Minnie, 2, her daughter.
The combination of so many roles has refined her abilities. Surprisingly, she's found a fuller life can also mean a more meaningful one. "I feel more balanced than I have felt in years," she said. "Minnie is flourishing, and I'm able to focus on school work. I don't feel overwhelmed. I feel interested."
Haven took a break during her M1 year, then returned in 2009 to complete those studies. The workload, coupled with the demands of being a mom, sometimes seemed insurmountable, but she had more strength than she realized. She pared her attention to the essentials. "Just knowing what resources are available is helpful," she said. "You can't store all the information in one brain."
On Mother's Day, she was preparing for finals, knowing she'd have to forego a celebration. But to her delight, her dad and stepmom showed up at the Brody Building with chocolates and a plant for her. She took a much-needed break to visit with them. "We walked around the duck pond," she remembered. And in the end, she did just fine on her exams.
Along with studying, labs, mommy duties and volunteer work, she has found unexpected joys, such as moving into a new house. "We invited all of our friends over to celebrate," she said. "It was a warm moment after a long journey, but it really felt like home."
As a Blue Cross Blue Shield scholar, she's worked closely with a mentoring doctor, attended conferences and participated in a skills workshop in family medicine, which continues to be her medical interest.
"Given that I'd like to work where there's a shortage of health care, the scope and spectrum of skills in family medicine would be very useful," she said. "I'd love to do an OB fellowship, so I could also deliver babies. I would enjoy that."