First ECU School of Medicine students reunite at homecoming

In 1972, farmland covered the Pitt County countryside where the ECU health sciences campus is today.

It’s hard to imaclass1972_5x7gine the changes that have been made since the first medical school students entered ECU that same year.

Those 20 students knew they had to succeed their first year in Greenville, after which they would transfer to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was the first step toward ECU having its own medical school.

The program helped fulfill the vision of Dr. Leo Jenkins, president of what was then East Carolina College, to build a medical school on campus. The first class was honored Nov. 8-9 by the ECU Medical and Health Sciences Foundation during ECU’s homecoming.

In 1965, a year after Jenkins began his campaign for a medical school, the North Carolina General Assembly authorized East Carolina to establish a school and provided planning funds for its development.

The first ECU medical faculty members started work in 1970, under the leadership of Dr. Wallace Wooles, a pharmacologist and the first dean. The following year, the General Assembly appropriated operating funds to allow enrollment in the one-year program.

In 1972, those first 20 students arrived, followed by two more classes of 20 each, all North Carolinians, in 1973 and 1974.

The thinking in Greenville, Raleigh and at the UNC General Administration offices in Chapel Hill was that ECU would grow to a two-year program, with expansion to a full four-year program later.

But in late 1974, plans changed. The next year, upon recommendation of the UNC Board of Governors, the General Assembly appropriated $43 million for initial construction of facilities and implementation of a four-year medical school at ECU. The charter class of 28 students enrolled in 1977. The school received full accreditation in February 1981, and the first class graduated that spring.

Today, the Brody School of Medicine at ECU enrolls 80 students with each class.

And the farmland has been replaced by a bustling health sciences campus made up of the Brody School of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Allied Health Sciences, the School of Dental Medicine, the Laupus Health Sciences Library, the East Carolina Heart Institute, ECU Family Medicine and many other clinics taking care of patients.

“It is just fascinating to be here at a time when the school has clearly come into its own, and the earliest graduates are displaying all of the high qualities of the profession, in leadership and service, that were imagined so many years ago,” said Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the medical school.


Dr. Evelyn McNeill, left, an original ECU medical faculty member, talks with Dr. James Parsons, a member of the first one-year medical class, during a gathering Nov. 8 at the Brody Medical Sciences Building. (Photo by Doug Boyd)