(Mar. 21, 2014)
Match Day is another milestone for East Carolina University medical student Alan Burke, who's had a few of them.
The cancer survivor will graduate from the Brody School of Medicine in a few weeks, and then he will be commissioned into the military and begin a residency in psychiatric medicine at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"It's been a long five years," Burke said. "It's a good celebration [and] accomplishment."
Burke was one of 80 graduating medical students participating in Match Day at ECU. Of those, 47, or 58.75 percent, will be going into a primary care field: family medicine (16), internal medicine (seven), internal medicine/pediatrics (five), pediatrics (13) and OB/GYN (six).
Altogether, this year's ECU graduates are going to residencies in 15 medical specialties in 26 states, from Maine to Hawaii. However, 31 of them, or nearly 39 percent, are staying in North Carolina.
Match Day is when medical students across the country learn where they will spend the next three-to-seven years as doctors-in-training.
Korsica Lassiter, who was born in Scotland Neck and then moved to Williamston before entering college and medical school, is going to East Tennessee State University for a residency in general surgery.
"Today is like the culmination of 20-something years of work and four years of medical school," she said. "It's the best day to put it all together."
For Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the medical school, the day brought more reasons to feel good about ECU's accomplishments. Of the 31 who are staying in state, 17 matched into residencies at ECU/Vidant Medical Center. These students will work with attending physicians at the hospital, at a medical office or other nearby practice site. Statistics show students tend to practice near where they do their residencies, so there's a good chance many will stay in eastern North Carolina.
"These students … predict we will continue to meet our mission of producing primary care physicians for the great state of North Carolina," said Cunningham who himself practiced in the small northeastern North Carolina town of Windsor before joining the medical school three decades ago.
Students Stephanie Carrier and Jon Hodges matched to family medicine residencies at the University of Virginia.
"We're pretty excited," Carrier said. "It was our No. 1 choice." She came to ECU as a recipient of the Brody Medical Scholarship, which pays all the costs of medical school – thus relieving students of an average of more than $90,000 in debt -- and provides opportunities for service.
"That for me is what made it possible for me to go into family medicine and get involved in service here," she said. "I see myself coming back to North Carolina."
But before they head to Charlottesville, Va., they have another big event to take care of. They are getting married March 29.
"It's probably one of the most exciting weeks of our lives," Carrier said.
One of the most significant moments in Burke's life was that day in 2009 in histology class, when his professor was going over the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer.
"I said, 'I have that,'" he recalled. He made an appointment with a physician, who guessed Burke was a hypochondriac – not uncommon for first-year medical students. But he wasn't imagining anything. He soon was undergoing treatment.
"It was all stress," he said. "When all my friends were studying for tests, I was vomiting in a toilet from radiation. And when all my friends were out having fun after studying, I was studying."
If that weren't enough, a year later his mother, Dorothy Neely, was diagnosed with meningioma, a type of benign brain tumor. It was then Burke decided to take some time off from medical school.
"I think God was telling me to relax a bit," he said.
Neely agreed. "The good news is we both found it and are doing well," she said.
By tradition, the last student whose name is called gets a pot of money. This year, that was Demi Dawkins who collected $318. She's going to the University of Wisconsin for a residency in neurosurgery.
Nationally, 29,761 first- and second-year residency positions were offered, according to the National Residency Matching Program. Of those who matched, 16,399 were U.S. medical school seniors. Across the country, family medicine and internal medicine saw increases in the number of students who matched to residency programs.
A complete look at Match Day 2014 results at ECU is online at http://www.ecu.edu/cs-dhs/bsomstudentaffairs/upload/Match-Results-2014-for-webpage-2.pdf