(Dec. 6, 2011)
A university physician-educator who has dedicated his professional career to providing care to underserved children and adults in eastern North Carolina will deliver the commencement address at East Carolina University on Dec. 16.
Dr. Thomas G. Irons, associate vice chancellor for health sciences and professor of pediatrics at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, will deliver the address during ceremonies at Minges Coliseum. He recently received the Award for Excellence in Public Service in October from the Board of Governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina.
The commencement ceremony is scheduled to begin with a band concert at 9:30 a.m. in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. The commencement program will follow at 10 a.m.
During the event, more than 3,300 students are expected to receive their degrees, including approximately 2,220 bachelor degree candidates and 1,110 graduate degree candidates, of which 30 are from the Brody School of Medicine.
A member of ECU's faculty for more than 30 years, Irons has worked tirelessly to improve access to quality health care for the people of eastern North Carolina. As a physician, faculty member and private citizen, he has focused his time, his vast medical expertise and his consensus-building skills on helping to address the needs of abused children, disabled children, at-risk teens, farm families and the rural uninsured.
The public service award, announced on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro during the board's regular October meeting, was established in 2007 to encourage, identify, recognize and reward distinguished public service and outreach by faculty across the university.
Even though he is not an ECU graduate, Irons' roots run deep in Greenville and at ECU.
His parents were primary care physicians. His father, Dr. Fred Irons, was ECU's first full-time physician and the director of Student Health Center when it opened in 1967 and served as its director for 36 years. His mother, Dr. Malene Irons, was a pediatrician in Greenville for more than 28 years and a 1935 graduate of East Carolina; she was the first director of the Developmental Evaluation Clinic, housed in a building that now bears her name.
Irons is a graduate of Davidson College and the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. From 1975 to 1978, he served in the U.S. Army in West Germany, where he developed a child abuse prevention and management program that involved clergy, social services and military police.
Upon his return to the U.S., he practiced pediatrics in Raleigh before joining the medical faculty at ECU in 1981, where he became heavily involved in child abuse prevention efforts and secured grants to launch programs to better address the medical needs of severely disabled children, adolescents and other at-risk groups.
He moved into administrative positions at the medical school, serving as associate dean, senior associate dean and associate vice chancellor for health sciences. In these roles, he worked to grow and retain the base of primary care physicians in underserved communities across the region.
In 1999, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd, Irons took responsibility for coordinating health services at all Pitt County emergency shelters, where he saw the plight of the region's low-income residents in a whole new light.
Determined to address not only their immediate medical concerns, but also the underlying health care disparities existing across eastern North Carolina, Irons convened a group of state, regional and local health leaders and spearheaded the creation of HealthAssist, a health improvement and health care program for low-income and uninsured residents of eastern North Carolina.
Those efforts were later expanded to encompass other collaborative efforts including Access East and the Eastern Carolina Community Health Consortium.
Irons later championed the planning, fundraising and construction for the James D. Bernstein Community Health Center, which provides medical services, behavioral health services, dental care, pharmacy services and a full range of basic skills education programs.
While carrying a significant teaching and patient care load, Irons currently serves as medical director of the Bernstein Center, HealthAssist and the NC Agromedicine Institute, a collaboration among East Carolina, N.C. State, and N.C. A&T State universities. He also chairs the boards of Access East, the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Center and the Eastern Carolina Community Health Consortium.
He has received numerous awards for his teaching ability and commitment to his patients, including the Alumni Merit Award and the Medical Alumni Distinguished Service Award from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
He is also a four-time winner of the Clinical Science Faculty Award presented by graduating students at ECU's Brody School of Medicine, and the medical Class of 2006 created the annual Thomas G. Irons Award in Medical Professionalism in his honor.
More information on the commencement ceremony is online at http://www.ecu.edu/commencement
. In addition to the Dec. 16 ceremony, ECU colleges, schools and departments may hold unit recognition ceremonies during the commencement weekend. More information about those is online at http://www.ecu.edu/commencement/college_school.cfm