MED: Unforgettable Journey, Remarkable Opportunity

This summer, the Medical Education Development (MED) program celebrates 40 years of teaching. Sponsored by the Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, Health Careers Opportunities Program, and the State of North Carolina, MED is designed to increase opportunities in the health professions for individuals who demonstrate educational promise and commitment to a health career but who have lacked opportunity to reach their educational goals.

MED TAs, (l to r) Benjamin Crisp, Cydney Bullock and Ryan Bradley

by Hannah Crain -
Photos by Max Englund -

Cydney Bullock, a second-year medical student at the UNC School of Medicine, dreamed about becoming a physician when she was young. She didn’t want to be a superhero or a firefighter; she wanted to make people feel better.

She flourished in her science classes and read books about science before bedtime. While reading about illness, she remembers feeling that there was a need for female doctors. When she got to college, she volunteered in health care facilities, shadowing physicians and working at free clinics. Later she taught sexual health and HIV education for an AmeriCorps program called City Year.

“I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” says Bullock, who’s spending the summer as a teaching assistant for the Medical Education Development (MED) program at UNC.

Despite her success in school and her passion for medicine, Bullock’s path to UNC wasn’t without twists and turns. Her greatest challenge came when her application to medical school was denied. But Bullock isn’t one to give up on her dreams. Soon after learning she wasn’t accepted, she pursued an MPH degree from Emory University and attended the Medical Science program at Hampton University. The experiences solidified her desire to pursue a career in medicine and grow and develop as a student, and they led her to MED.

“I knew about the legacy and reputation of MED, and participating in it allowed me to prove not only to myself, but to an admissions committee, that I could be successful as a medical student,” says Bullock.

The MED Program at UNC was established 40 years ago by Evelyn McCarthy, former director of MED, and Christopher Fordham, MD, former dean of the UNC School of Medicine and chancellor emeritus of UNC. Sponsored by the Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, Health Careers Opportunities Program, and the State of North Carolina, MED is designed to increase opportunities in the health professions for individuals who demonstrate educational promise and commitment to a health career but who have lacked opportunity to reach their educational goals. Pre-professional candidates in medicine and dentistry, often from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds, spend a summer at UNC taking courses and gaining experiences to help them compete successfully for admission to health professional schools.

Over a period of nine weeks, professors from the School of Medicine teach advanced science courses and labs including histology, gross anatomy, biochemistry and microbiology. Within that time, which includes weekly cumulative tests and daily assignments, students learn the same amount of academic material as expected during the first year of medical school. By the end of the summer session, students receive an evaluation letter and class ranking from the faculty.

Benjamin Crisp
Benjamin Crisp, MED teaching assistant and second-year medical student at UNC.
Cydney Bullock
Cydney Bullock, MED teaching assistant and second-year medical student at UNC
Ryan Bradley
Ryan Bradley, MED teaching assistant and second-year medical student at UNC.
Benjamin Crisp is an MED teaching assistant (TA) who recently finished his first year of medical school at UNC. Crisp applied to MED after discovering his mom, Roslyn M. Crisp, a dentist in Burlington, N.C., is a 1977 MED alumna. Like Bullock, he couldn’t imagine being anything other than a doctor, and the MED experience helped him achieve his educational goal of reaching medical school.

“The MED program will make sure that you’re productive,” says Crisp. “The staff highlights the importance of time management and strong study skills; you will learn to be efficient. With the stress you experience in the nine weeks of your summer, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.”

MED students come from a variety of backgrounds, are of different ages and ethnicities, and vary in stage of life. Some have had early experiences with medicine that have pushed them to pursue medical education. Ryan Bradley’s younger brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor at nine years old. He underwent surgery to have it removed. The recovery process, for his brother and his family, was difficult.

“I always knew I wanted to study medicine,” says Bradley, a second-year medical student at UNC. “But witnessing what my brother went through was the final straw. That’s when I officially decided to pursue a career in medicine. He has been huge influence on me and is the most important person in my life.”

As a junior in college, Bradley continued his interest in medicine by working in the ED at Norfolk General Hospital, where he was introduced to MED alumnus and cardiologist Dr. Mark East. It was through Dr. East that he learned about the MED program and was introduced to program director Dr. Cedric Bright, also an MED alumnus. Bradley enrolled in MED and after finishing college was accepted into medical school at UNC. He returned to MED this summer as a TA.

“I was humbled to find that MED is much more than rigorous academic coursework,” says Bradley. “There are seminars on topics such as professionalism and personal statement writing, and the program was invaluable in terms of building connections. I still keep in touch with the friends I made during MED….It was more than just academics for me.”

The summer program’s structured curriculum enhances the skills of advanced pre-professional candidates and prepares them for health affairs schools. UNC Kidney Center’s Keisha Gibson, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics. Dr. Gibson is also an MED alumna and a former TA in the program.

“The comprehensive curriculum makes this program unique,” says Dr. Gibson. “Not only is there educational substance, but there’s an effort to bring early clinical exposure to the students. One of the reasons I’m most grateful for the MED program was the extensive guidance for test preparation. I had the chance to learn how to read faster and interpret questions effectively."

Third-year medical student and MED alumna Thayne Dalrymple agrees.

“Whether you’re a traditional or nontraditional student, MED is very beneficial to your academic and personal growth," says Dalrymple. “It gives you all the resources to fully challenge yourself and reveal your true potential. At the end of my summer in MED, I knew that I was ready to take on the next level of challenges of medical school."

Although the experience is grueling, students make it through better prepared for the rigors of medical school.

“My advice is to never give up,” says Bradley. “Never think a single low grade on a test will define you. Larry Keith, champion for minority medical students at UNC, always said, ‘If you can dream it, you can achieve it,’ and that’s something I believe in.”

Alumni often choose to give back to the program by increasing awareness about it and giving donations. Others, like Bullock, Crisp, and Bradley, choose to continue their involvement by serving as TAs. In this role, they lead students in science courses and teach the essential skills they learned, and they gain a new perspective by engaging with the program from the other side. 

“I learned not to make assumptions about others,” says Bradley. “People may act differently in and out of class, and I may not know what they’re going through, so I try to be there for them no matter what.” 

Crisp is impressed by the students he’s met this summer.

“They want to study and learn the material,” Crisp says. “They come to me with great questions, asking for help and advice, and that encourages me to teach them to the best of my ability.”

And by teaching the material, the TAs demonstrate a true grasp of what they learned during MED and through their initial years in medical school.

“You understand the learning material when you’re able to teach it to others,” says Dr. Gibson. “There’s a way to make a connection with different kinds of learners, by breaking down the material and understanding it enough to teach others. That summer during MED I was taught how to be a valuable teacher. I still use that advice when I teach medical students, and I use it in everything I do.”

Among the benefits provided by MED to students are the unforgettable memories and the opportunity to become part of a lasting community.

“It’s a genuine family atmosphere, and that’s something that the School of Medicine prides itself on,” says Dalrymple. “Whether it’s studying, participating in class discussions or sharing a meal, by the end of the summer we’re a close family because we are always together.”

Bringing together people of different backgrounds and experiences is what makes MED and the UNC experience special.

“MED has a broad understanding of what diversity means,” says Dr. Gibson. “The mission of our state institution is to ensure that we are populating our state with individuals that can provide the needs of everyone who is a part of our state. The definition doesn’t end with ethnicity – it includes age, gender, rural or urban areas, nontraditional and traditional students, varied career paths and so on. When I look at how the MED program has grown and evolved over time, I’m happy to see that it hasn’t lost that initial spirit.”