December 2022

Welcome to the “Year in Review” issue of “The Scope,” the newsletter of ECU’s Health Sciences.

Dear Colleagues,

As my first semester as provost at East Carolina University rushes to its conclusion, I continue to reflect on my experiences as a part of the Pirate Nation. One of the things that attracted me to ECU is the heart of our university’s strength: The People. Since arriving, I’ve met so many wonderful people of this University, and I continue to be excited by the amazing achievements and discoveries being made by students, faculty and staff toward being effective in student success, public service, and regional transformation. ECU’s focus on being impactful and in improving quality of life in eastern North Carolina is evident in amazing ways on the Health Sciences Campus of our University. Thank you for applying knowledge, talents and passion to make a difference. It is truly an honor to see the university’s mission put into action in seeking and providing solutions for better health and better lives. 

Robin N. Coger, PhD
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

There are many reasons to be proud of what is being achieved by our colleges and schools, and here I’ll highlight a very small subset. The College of Nursing honored its longtime, outgoing dean and welcomed an innovative new leader who is helping to establish new and exciting collaborations. The School of Dental Medicine earned a national award for its commitment to social mission and using innovation in education and patient care across the state. The Brody School of Medicine is leveraging our ECU Health brand and unveiled plans for a new medical education building. The College of Allied Health Sciences showcased its facilities and campus by hosting the annual conference for the Southern Association of Health Professional Deans at Academic Health Centers and reached new patients through its top-notch community clinics. Laupus Library provided tools for marginalized populations to gain access to health care information and continues to serve as an important campus anchor of information.

As I begin my first full calendar year at ECU, I am excited to imagine what is next for the academics of our university. The One ECU concept is our approach to collectively creating solutions as we focus on student success, faculty expertise and coordinated plans for the future. I look forward to helping to build new partnerships between our University and industry, local governments and community organizations. The interprofessional spirit I have witnessed so far will no doubt go a long way toward creative collaborations to achieve better health outcomes for all.

I challenge you all to also take time to imagine what can be accomplished in 2023 — as an individual, as a team, as a campus and as One ECU. Our comprehensive success is only possible because of the people of our university. The perspectives and passion you bring are the reason that lives are changed every day at ECU, and also why that will continue for decades to come.

Thank you for your dedication to East Carolina University and to the health and wellness of all eastern North Carolinians. I hope each of you has a safe and joyous holiday season.

Robin N. Coger, PhD
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Highlights of the Year

The Health Sciences Campus experienced growth in 2022 — from new leadership and new facilities on the horizon to awards and mission-driven service. Here are 10 of the year’s biggest stories in health sciences.

Building vision: ECU’s Board of Trustees approved the site of a new medical education building on the health sciences campus. Construction on the building, a 500-space parking deck and utility plant is expected to begin in 2025, with an anticipated completion in mid to late 2027. The planned multi-story building with approximately 200,000-square-foot medical education programming will be adjacent to the current Brody Medical Sciences Building and is intended to support enrollment growth from 86 to more than 120 medical students per year.

Occupational Therapy students work in the simulated apartment in CAHS. (ECU Photo by Ciff Hollis)

Excellence in social mission: The School of Dental Medicine received a national award for its advances in social mission— from addressing the oral health care gap in rural North Carolina communities to providing access to a dental education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The school was presented a Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation Award for Excellence in Social Mission in Health Professions Education on March 28 during the 2022 Beyond Flexner Conference in Phoenix. The award was one of four Macy Awards presented, and the only honor given in the Institutional Excellence category. The school was also honored as an Apple Distinguished School for 2022-25 for its use of technology in every aspect of teaching, learning and clinical practice — the sixth consecutive time the school has earned the honor since 2012.

PhD in OT: The College of Allied Health Sciences is set to offer a doctoral degree program in occupational therapy — the first at any public university in the state. ECU currently offers a master’s degree in occupational therapy; the entry-level doctoral degree will add another option for students pursuing graduate work in the discipline. The Doctor of Occupational Therapy program is built upon entry-level skills developed at the master’s level to produce leaders of innovative practice in the unique rural environment of eastern North Carolina. In collaboration with faculty members actively engaged in evidence-based and innovative community programs, the OTD students will successfully gain advanced skills as practitioners, researchers and educators.

Dr. Bim Akintade, the new dean of the College of Nursing

Farmworker literacy: As part of a grant-funded effort to address the lack of health information for migrant farmworkers and their families, staff in Laupus Health Sciences Library are helping expand and transform resources into accessible content for this eastern North Carolina population. The project, led by College of Health and Human Performance faculty member Dr. Joseph Lee and ECU’s Academic Library Services team, includes support from the Department of Health Education and Promotion and Student Action with Farmworkers. The collaboration provided internet access and information literacy training for middle and high school students from migrant and seasonal farmworker families.

A new nurse leader: The College of Nursing welcomed Dr. Bimbola Akintade as the new dean of the College of Nursing, following an extensive national search. Akintade succeeds Dr. Sylvia Brown, who led the college as dean since 2009. As a nurse, Akintade spent four years at the bedside and another 15 years an acute care nurse practitioner, giving him real-world understanding of the academic principles that he will oversee as the dean of ECU’s College of Nursing. He was also inducted as a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, recognized by the nursing community as the highest honor that a nurse can receive from their peers.

ECU Health: The partnership between ECU and then-Vidant Health continued to transform under the ECU Health brand. The ECU Health logo was unveiled and now adorns ECU Health Medical Center and clinical offices. The ECU Health logo represents the regional health system made up of more than 13,000 dedicated health care workers, a thriving university, current and future generations of doctors committed to caring for North Carolina and the commitment of two organizations working collaboratively to transform the east.

Meeting the Mission

Faculty, staff and students across the Health Sciences Campus walked the walk in 2022 when it came to serving patients in rural and underserved areas of the East.

Rural health: The health sciences disciplines made marked progress reaching patients across the rural East in 2022. ECU and ECU Health continue to work together to improve rural health care in the East and beyond, through innovative education, research and patient care — celebrating notable achievements in medicine, dentistry, nursing and allied health. “Among the best things we do as a university is to uphold the promises made to the people of North Carolina. Part of that commitment is to transform health care in rural and underserved areas across our state,” ECU Chancellor Dr. Philip Rogers said, in honor of Rural Health Day 2022

Hispanic dental clinic at Ross Hall. The ECU SoDM Hispanic Student Dental Association was responsible. (ECU Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Creating smiles: The School of Dental Medicine expanded its Sonríe Clinic that provides dental care for migrant farmworkers in the East. Close to 80 volunteers — dental school students, residents, faculty, staff and community members — lent their skills, expertise and compassion to the event, a partnership with the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina, Inc. (AMEXCAN). The event was created by students in the dental school’s Hispanic Student Dental Association (HSDA) as part of a mission-driven effort to reach out to communities without direct access to care. The school’s ECU Smiles for Veterans program expanded from its community service learning in Sylva to the CSLCs in Brunswick County and Lillington. The event serves provides veterans a variety of dental procedures completed by faculty, residents and students. Since 2018, the events have provided care for close to 275 veterans across the state. The school’s community service learning center in Ahoskie marked its 10th anniversary this summer. The center was the first of eight CSLCs across North Carolina that provide oral health care for patients in rural parts of the state faced with lack of access and a shortage of practicing dentists and offer students and residents valuable experience working in clinical settings in different communities.

Therapy partners: Physical therapy students from the College of Allied Health Sciences have been at the helm of a free, student-run clinic for several years, delivering quality health care to eastern North Carolinians who would otherwise be lack treatments that would help them regain function of their bodies after setbacks caused by illness or injury. A new partnership with fellow students from the Department of Occupational Therapy will further enrich the quality of care provided to patients at the free, student-run clinic.

Outstanding care: ECU Physicians, which became part of ECU Health in January, earned the 2022 Diabetes Recognition Program distinction from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a private nonprofit organization devoted to improving the quality of health care, for providing care that meets six predetermined clinical performance measures. The NCQA determines the top performing medical providers by studying the efficiency of health plans and how well providers deliver scientifically recommended care.

CON student Teresa Hupp. (ECU Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Nursing excellence: College of Nursing students like Teresa Hupp are taking advantage of the rigorous academic programs that are preparing them for a career in nursing. Hupp has worked with Dr. Kim Larson on a project focusing on palliative care in Latinos with advanced cancer. “This project has left an impact on me, as I have had conversations with clients who are in such a delicate time of their lives,” Hupp said. “Hearing their stories and being able to see the growth in understanding and resources for this population has been extremely inspiring.” The first cohort in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to Ph.D. program graduated in May, along with the first cohort in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Nurse Anesthesia program. The BSN to Ph.D. program blends the doctoral curriculum with two different Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) concentrations — the nursing education concentration or the health systems leadership concentration. The DNP program transitioned from a master’s degree to the DNP, adapting to better suit the needs of practicing nurses.

The Brody difference: Several Brody School of Medicine alumni shared their stories about practicing in North Carolina and making a difference in the lives of their patients. Brody leads the state in the percentage of its graduates who practice in North Carolina, as more than 50% of its nearly 2,400 alumni practice in state. The school was also ranked by U.S. News & World Report in 2022 as the ninth “Most Diverse Medical School” in the nation. Representing the Brody mission, Dr. Shannon B. Dowler, a 1999 graduate of the Brody School of Medicine, was named the 2022 Distinguished Family Physician Award winner by the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians, the state’s largest specialty medical association. The award is the most prestigious award given by the NCAFP and is awarded annually to a family physician whose career exemplifies an unwavering commitment to his or her patients, the ideals of family medicine and enhancing the quality of life in his or her local community.


Advances in research yielded opportunities for future patients to benefit from new therapies and treatments — and contributed new discoveries with even more real-world implications.

ECU Brody School of Medicine assistant professor Dr. Karen Litwa was named the recipient of a $1.2 million research grant from the National Science Foundation for her research into brain development. (Photos by Rhett Butler)

Recovery program: Dr. Leigh Atherton, an associate professor in East Carolina University’s College of Allied Health Sciences, is working to address substance abuse in special populations. Atherton’s program, Engage Eastern North Carolina, has embarked on a $2.5 million dollar federally-funded project to find and engage members of underrepresented communities with expanded HIV testing and information about substance use recovery in the hopes of reducing the occurrence of each in rural North Carolina. The new HIV outreach program is part of a broader effort to expand behavioral health treatment across rural North Carolina.

Target telehealth: Researchers are leading a five-year randomized clinical trial aimed at improving blood pressure control in rural and urban patients using targeted home-based monitoring and telehealth and a health care team approach to blood pressure management. The $5.6 million, five-year project is made possible by a contract through the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The project, “Carolina Consortium to Improve BP Control in Vulnerable Populations,” is led by ECU’s Dr. Doyle “Skip” Cummings, the Berbecker Distinguished Professor of Rural Medicine, a full professor in public health in the Brody School of Medicine and senior faculty member in the ECU Health Disparities Center.

HIV project: Dr. Courtney Caiola, a College of Nursing assistant professor and researcher focusing on women and HIV, said that the HIV epidemic has taken root in rural and underserved regions — and eastern North Carolina has become a ready refuge for the disease. The National Institute of Nursing Research has funded one of Caiola’s research projects that aims to find out how best to communicate with women living with HIV in rural settings, particularly for those without reliable access to high-speed internet connectivity.

Brain research: Dr. Karen Litwa, assistant professor in Brody’s Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, earned a National Science Foundation Career Award for $1.2 million over five years to study synapse formation in brain development, which is vital to cognitive processes like learning and memory. The project aims to address how synapses — the points of contact between neurons where information is passed from one neuron to the next — form in brain development and mediate the transfer of information in the brain. Each year, close to 500 researchers are recognized with Career Awards for their potential to serve as “academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF.

Author recognition: More than 120 authors from across East Carolina University’s Health Sciences Campus were honored during Laupus Health Sciences Library’s 17th annual Health Sciences Author Recognition Awards on Nov. 8. The event celebrated the 265 peer-reviewed journal articles, 26 book chapters, and four editorially reviewed books that were authored by 124 ECU faculty and staff members between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. The authors hailed from the health sciences campus as well as the College of Health and Human Performance.

Research experience: Selected first-year students in the School of Dental Medicine had the opportunity to participate in research alongside faculty mentors as part of the Summer Scholars Research program before they began classes on campus. The 2021 cohort presented their research last February at the school’s annual Celebration of Research and Scholarship. This year’s scholars joined medical distinction track students at the 25th Annual Medical Student Scholarship Forum at the East Carolina Heart Institute. The forum, hosted by the Brody School of Medicine’s Office of Medical Education, gave students an opportunity to present their work and posters to colleagues and guests.

In the News

The health sciences have been in the news statewide and nationally. Below is how we tracked print and online news, not including social media or news video.


Community support for ECU’s Division of Health Sciences — its students, its faculty and its mission — was remarkable throughout 2022, and we have many of you to thank.

This year’s Brody Scholars take a photo during their White Coat ceremony on Health Science campus. (ECU Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Here are some of the highlights provided by the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation:

  • $9,900,000+ Amount raised in 2022
  • 336 students received $1,050,083 in scholarships funded through the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, Inc. for the academic year 2021–2022.
  • 50 new funds created that will support a variety of priorities across the division, including scholarships, faculty support, professorships, research and patient care

        Learn more about how you can support the Health Sciences Campus through the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, Inc.