Residents remember their ‘First Look’ at UNC

Carolina First Look is an opportunity for minority and underrepresented medical students preparing for the residency application process to visit the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Hospitals to learn more about available specialty medical programs for residents. The annual event takes place Aug. 25-26.

Residents remember their ‘First Look’ at UNC click to enlarge Drs. Akilah Grimes and Tarshree Sawyer

By Jamie Williams,

Akilah Grimes, MD, attended the first Carolina First Look event in 2014. The weekend, she said ‘sealed’ her decision to come to UNC for her residency training. Now she’s in the third year of her pediatrics residency and hopes to go into primary care upon the completion of her training.

When she attended First Look, she was in her final year at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine. She was aware of UNC, but said the opportunity to attend First Look where she met faculty and residents was invaluable.

“First Look really confirmed that UNC was the place where I wanted to do my residency,” Grimes said. “It meant so much to me to see everyone at UNC so committed to helping residents succeed. The residents I met all said the programs here felt like family.”

First Look is coordinated by Hugh Smith, Associate Director for the UNC School of Medicine’s Office of Inclusive Excellence. Over the course of the weekend, visiting medical students get the chance to see what the residency experience might be like at UNC Hospitals. They tour the facility and hear from current residents, program directors, staff, and faculty.

Tarshree Sawyer, MD, MPH, currently a second year resident in pediatrics, said when she was in medical school at the University of Toledo, she really didn’t know much about UNC. But, she met Smith at a national conference for medical students and he told her about First Look. A few weeks later, Sawyer said she got a call from Smith to follow up on their conversation and remind her about the event.

“He seemed so genuine, I really felt like I needed to make an effort to get to North Carolina,” Sawyer remembers.

When she arrived for the First Look weekend, she said she was most impressed by the panel of residents who spoke to the attendees. Sawyer said they of course talked about UNC, but also gave more general advice on the residency interview process, everything from what to wear to what questions to ask.

“They just seemed really interested in our success. When I went on my residency interviews, I carried the notebook full of things I learned at First Look with me,” Sawyer said.

The overall experience of First Look, Sawyer said left her feeling like UNC was the type of place that she could really thrive during her residency.

“I was really interested in finding a diverse program, and it was clear to me that was very important to everyone at UNC,” Sawyer said.

And since she has arrived for her residency, she says UNC has lived up to her expectations.

“I’m so happy that I chose UNC. Residency comes with a lot of hard work and a lot of ups and downs, but through everything I have felt a great amount of support,” Sawyer said.

Both Grimes and Sawyer are active participants in the Resident Diversity Initiative, also run by Smith, which aims to build diversity among UNC’s residency programs. Grimes and Sawyer will also both be attending this year’s Carolina First Look, where to make certain this year’s attendees have the same great experiences they had.

“Since I’ve been in residency at UNC, I have come back to First Look every year,” Grimes said. “And every year I tell the attendees that UNC is an incredible place to learn and train.”