First med student delivers address as Campbell hits 1,000-doctor milestone

On a day that saw the Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine hood its 1,000th doctor, it turned to its first-ever student to offer advice and encouragement to its seventh graduating class. 

Dr. Melissa Stout Davies, a 2010 Campbell University graduate who just a few years later became the first student accepted into North Carolina’s first new medical school in over 35 years, delivered the commencement address Thursday for graduates of the med school’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Master of Science in Biomedical Science programs.

The 153 med school graduates now makes 1,050 total for the school launched in 2013 — many of those doctors have gone on to practice in rural and underserved parts of North Carolina, the Southeast and the United States, addressing a serious physician shortage across the country. In addition, 17 graduates earned their MS in Biomedical Sciences, many of whom are planning to continue their health sciences education (some in Campbell’s medical school).

Davies, who graduated with the first class in 2017, completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at East Carolina University’s Vidant Medical Center in 2021, and a year later she was awarded the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists Award for excellence in laparoscopic surgery in 2022. She currently practices in Greensboro and is a shareholder in Eagle Physicians & Associates.

She was introduced Thursday by the namesake for the medical school, Dr. Jerry Wallace, who recalled the day he met Davies, as she was the first student he helped interview for that first class. 

“I said to her, ‘You seem familiar to me,’ and she said, ‘Oh, Dr. Wallace, I was a Campbell student.’ Well what about that?,” Wallace said. “You can be assured that Melissa met all the qualifications we wanted in a student to be the first admission to the school. She was a wonderful choice, and she has distinguished herself ever since.”

In her address, Davies congratulated the medical school’s Class of 2023 for their hard work and determination to reach this point, but encouraged them to keep that mindset going forward, as graduating medical school, she said, “is only the beginning of your career.” Nearly all of the new doctors will enter their residencies this summer, 43 of them have chosen to remain in North Carolina, and the others will spread out across 30 states and Washington, D.C., with 80 percent of them targeting “areas of need” in the U.S.

“No matter how much you’ve learned, and hopefully attained, during your medical school studies, residency almost requires you to start over again, since information and processing are so specific to the specialty,” Davies said. “I mention this because it is common to see interns struggle with the reality that there is a great deal that they do not know, and there will be a lot they still have to learn. An attitude of humility, coupled with a willingness to learn and the diligence to study and take this on will go a long way in positioning you for success.”

She said an irony of becoming a doctor that looks after the health of others is that many young doctors don’t take care of their own health during this stressful time in their careers. She encouraged the new graduates to prioritize caring for themselves — going to therapy, exercising and spending time with loved ones — to balance their career and their life. 

“We are not immune from the challenges and difficulties of life just because of our profession,” she said. “It is essential that we rally around one another and provide support and encouragement. This concept can feel more apt though, particularly in medical school and residency, where there is a tendency to treat each other as competitors rather than collaborators. We must put aside the political geography and the desire to prove ourselves in favor of compassion for those with whom we share. 

“No one else can quite understand the burden of having to make decisions that can determine whether or not someone lives. That is why we must be intentional about building each other and forming an incorruptible fence.”

Medical school Dean Dr. Brian Kessler, Board of Trustees Chairman Gene Lewis and Campbell President Dr. Bradley Creed all spoke briefly to welcome the graduates and their families, and Wallace delivered the prayer of invocation. 

“We rejoice in your achievements — your triumphs are intertwined with our own,” said Kessler. “We look forward to seeing the impact you’ll make on others. You’ll accomplish great things and make a difference in many patients’ lives. For that, we are and will always be grateful.”

New doctor Sarah Jackson of Fayetteville said her medical school journey was also a journey of growth for her family. She and her husband were the parents of a 4-year-old daughter when she was accepted, and she graduated Thursday with three children — welcoming twins just seven months ago.

“I wanted to go into medicine, because we truly sensed that the Lord was calling us to this,” Jackson said. “For me, it’s not so much a career as it is a calling in a way that the Lord is going to use these tools that I’ve gained here at Campbell to minister to those around us. We’re excited to see how He is going to use our family.”

For Ryan Blanton, graduation was a mix of excitement and nerves — he said he’s anxious to start his residency (after a short vacation), and he called Thursday a fulfillment of an eighty-year dream that began when he was studying biology as an undergrad at Georgia State University.

“These are some of my best friends I’ve made over these last four years. Some people call it ‘trauma bonding,’ getting through some of these difficult years. I’m excited for all of us — sad they’re going to be leaving me, but excited to see what they’re going to do next.”