Dean emeritus receives medal for contributions to medical profession

Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean emeritus of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, was recently honored in New York City for his contributions to the medical profession and for his achievements in academic leadership.

Cunningham was awarded the 2018 Jacobi Medallion on March 15 from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Cunningham, who served as dean at Brody from 2008 to 2016, completed his residency in surgery at Mount Sinai. He said he was humbled to receive the award, which ties him back to the roots of a strong foundation for his career in service, responsibility and medical expertise.

Dr. Paul R. G. Cunningham, dean emeritus of the Brody School of Medicine, was awarded the 2018 Jacobi Medallion for excellence in the medical profession from Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. (Contributed photo)

Dr. Paul R. G. Cunningham, dean emeritus of the Brody School of Medicine, was awarded the 2018 Jacobi Medallion for excellence in the medical profession from Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. (Contributed photo)

“The only way I’ve assimilated this is by making the analogous connection between the story of the prodigal son, and this welcome by the vaunted institution on 5th Avenue,” he said.

While the return to New York was nostalgic for Cunningham, faculty at Mount Sinai voiced admiration for his game-changing contributions to the field of medicine and to education.

“Dr. Paul Cunningham represents the very best of our profession,” said Dr. Reena Karani, senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education and curricular affairs at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. “He dedicated his professional life to serving the most vulnerable in North Carolina and remains committed to equity and social justice in medicine.”

Karani “re-introduced” Cunningham to Mount Sinai, getting to know him in a professional setting and witnessing his encompassing knowledge and passion for medicine as well as his penchant for leadership.

“He listens carefully, acknowledges strengths, seeks a shared understanding of issues and promotes collaborative problem solving,” she said.

A surgeon by training, Cunningham was named Brody’s fifth dean in 2008. Previously an ECU trauma surgeon and educator, Cunningham as dean led the school in its devotion to producing primary care physicians for the state, increasing opportunities for underrepresented minorities in medical education and improving the health status of the citizens of eastern North Carolina. He recently completed a stint as president of the North Carolina Medical Society.

His time at ECU, he said, melded with his experience at Mount Sinai to be the best of both worlds, with much of his career achievement happening at ECU.

“Greenville and the Brody School of Medicine have commonalities with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai,” he said, “and at the same time, we are worlds apart. I am clearly a product of both environments, but the greatest demonstration of any competency that I may have had has been in this place, ‘down here.’”

The Jacobi Medallion has been awarded by the Mount Sinai Alumni since 1952 for distinguished achievement in the field of medicine or extraordinary service to the hospital, the Icahn School of Medicine or to the Alumni Association.

Cunningham was one of nine 2018 Jacobi Medallion recipients.

He expressed his appreciation to Mount Sinai, and said its faculty encouraged him to press beyond his comfort zone and his own vision for himself and his potential.

“I achieved much more than I could have imagined when I thought that I wanted to be a surgeon at age 16,” Cunningham said. “Life comes at you with different opportunities at different times, and keeping and cultivating a sense of wonder can really open up exhilarating experiences.”

 

-by Spaine Stephens, University Communications