Eight years ago, Jerry M. Wallace stood on the campus of a small university in Mississippi, part of a team tasked to review that school’s ability to start a school of osteopathic medicine. And eight years ago — a mere eight years — the idea that Campbell University could launch the first new medical school in North Carolina in over 35 years first set in.
On Saturday, Wallace looked out at the sea of 150 robed and tasseled members of the charter class of Campbell medical students — “pioneers” at the school that bears his name — and beamed. The former Campbell president and current chancellor borrowed a quote from the university’s founder and first president, J.A. Campbell.
“A Campbell graduate is as good as any and better than most,” he told them. “That’s not bragging. That’s stating the truth. And it’s a truth I’ve heard so much about this group over the last four years.”
On a milestone day in the 130-year history of Campbell University, 150 members of the Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine’s inaugural class became medical doctors — the first Campbell-produced medical doctors and the first osteopathic physicians educated in North Carolina. In a passionate commencement address worthy of a former Baptist minister, Wallace urged the group of doctors to put their patients first, enjoy their chosen profession and always find ways to improve medicine. He also recalled the memorable moments the class had shared with him during their medical school experience.
One of those stories was that of Melissa Stout Davies, a Fayetteville native who started medical school in 2013 just six weeks after giving birth to her first child. Davies had her second child — a daughter — during her final year … her children were 4 years and 4 months old at Saturday’s commencement.
“I’ll never forget how overwhelmed I was on that very first day, thinking, ‘What in the world did I get myself into?’” recalled Davis, who also earned her undergraduate degree at Campbell. “I realized later that if I paced myself week by week, I would make it. I’ve made long-lasting friendships and long-lasting relationships. I’ve met professors I will never forget. It’s amazing how quickly four years have flown by, and I am so grateful to have been able to call Campbell home twice.”
The 150-member charter class will begin their residencies in 32 states across the nation in the coming weeks. Thirty-five percent of the class will practice in the Southeastern portion of the United States in medically underserved regions or regions currently facing a physician shortage.
Erasmo Espino, an Army veteran who will enter his emergency medicine residency at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said his four years at Campbell affirmed that he chose the right path to pursue medicine after his military service.
“I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to something that would have a profound effect in people’s lives,” Espino said. “I hope to continue to work in rural parts of the country [after my residency] and focus my efforts on the underserved and veteran community.”
Erica Brotzman, one of two summa cum laude graduates (along with Jamie Weaver Campbell), said she found her passion in dermatology during her third year and will enter her residency in the field at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Sure, these four years have been challenging, but I felt supported by my amazing classmates and faculty every step of the way,” she said. “The feeling that I always use to describe Campbell is that we truly are a family. I felt it on my interview day here and every day since. We have accomplished this together.”
And Katy Brewer Key, who is a descendant of Harnett County’s first-ever physician in the late 1800s, said both her legacy and her experiences at Campbell influenced her to choose family medicine with her residency at Cabarrus Family Medicine Residency Program in Concord, North Carolina.
“With the shortage of family physicians in our state and in keeping with this school’s mission, I will continue to learn my trade here and intend on serving North Carolina for the length of my career,” Key said. “It is an honor to become a physician and, like my uncle, consider it a privilege to practice at home.”
Wallace and his wife Betty were awarded honorary Doctor of Science degrees for their work in making the medical school a reality.
“I will forever remember this day,” said Wallace. “You’re making history, and when I’m done talking, you’ll be able to proudly place DO behind your names. I’ve been delighted seeing you wearing the Campbell orange and black and the Campbell crest on your coats during your rotations. And I’m fully aware that the orange and black were in the presence of other colors at hospitals across this state. Your preceptors told me your work was superb. One hundred percent of you passed your national examinations. You did so well, and you showed up so well. As good as any. Better than most.”
Founding Dean Dr. John Kauffman became emotional during his closing remarks, stating there will never be another inaugural class of medical students at Campbell. The group entered the arena Saturday morning as students, but left as physicians, Kauffman said. He encouraged them to be ready to leave their mark.
“Always treat your patients the way you or your family would want to be treated,” he said, citing the Golden Rule. “The best advice I ever received as a resident was look for ways to distinguish yourself among your peers. Be that resident who advocates for his or her patients and who goes the extra mile.”