A winding path

Josh Ewy spent his years in undergrad preparing to be a chemical engineer, but when the career wasn’t what he expected, he changed directions and applied to medical school. Four years later, the Tar Heel is preparing to take a giant step in his training at Match Day.

Josh Ewy standing outside.
Fourth-year medical student Josh Ewy will be among the nearly 200 UNC School of Medicine students partaking in Match Day on Friday. (Photo by Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

When Josh Ewy applied to medical school, he didn’t think he would get in on his first try. He had just decided in his final year as an undergraduate — after several years preparing to become a chemical engineer — to apply and see what happened.

Ewy vividly remembers the moment he found out he was wrong and received his acceptance letter to the UNC School of Medicine. As he read the letter, there was no doubt in his mind where he was spending his next four years.

“I don’t even think it was a question,” he said. “I considered withdrawing my applications from everywhere else once I got it.”

Four years later, Ewy is preparing for another pivotal moment in his medical career, and it all began with another letter. On Match Day in March, he matched with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he will conduct his residency in OB-GYN after graduating in May.”

“It’ll be exciting to finally cross that threshold and be able to start the new chapter,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s going to be very terrifying and bittersweet because my time as a UNC student is coming to a close.”

From engineer to doctor

Ewy has been a natural problem solver his whole life, and he was drawn to science.

“Chemistry was the thing that caught my eye,” he said. “I took AP chemistry. I took organic chemistry, polymer chemistry, almost every chemistry course that was offered at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Then it was taking that love for chemistry and the idea of wanting to be a problem solver that led me to chemical engineering.”

Ewy earned a chemical engineering degree at NC State, but after spending his junior year interning full-time at a manufacturing plant, he realized he didn’t have any passion in the work he was doing.

When he returned to NC State’s campus for his senior year, Ewy enrolled in EMT training and began to think about a new future in medicine as he shadowed nurses and helped with tasks like taking vitals and starting IVs.

He became a part-time EMT in Wilson County, working 24-hour shifts on weekends before hustling back to campus for his classes. The experience, he admits, was grueling but worth it because his problem-solving brain shifted from things-focused to people-focused.

“I don’t even know how I was doing that, but I just loved it more and more,” Ewy said. “I felt so out of my depth in EMS, but I think that the people that I trained with gave me some very solid roots in medicine, and they showed me how great a career in medicine can be. That’s really how I made it to medicine.”

The following August, he was on his way to a white coat at the UNC School of Medicine.

“I worked really hard to make this happen,” Ewy said. “I came straight through because UNC saw something in me and decided to accept me.”

Becoming a leader

The School of Medicine’s supportive community drew Ewy to Chapel Hill, and as a medical student, he wanted to help strengthen that community. He joined student government, and in his fourth year, he became student body co-president.

“Med school is hard. There’s no way you can chop it and make this an easy experience. This is such a transformative, and in some ways, brutal experience,” he said. “I wanted to be as active as possible in making this experience the best — not only for myself but for my entire class, for everyone who is on this journey.”

That effort became even more critical in 2020 when the pandemic added an extra layer of stress to medical school. The students needed to find their bearings in the clinical space as the health care system was rapidly reacting to the upheaval caused by COVID-19. The students, Ewy said, leaned on each other during the difficult and isolating time.

That experience also taught Ewy and his classmates the importance of being not just physicians, but also leaders and advocates.

“Doctors not only need to be there to treat patients and give the best care possible, but they also need to be leaders in their local community and be prominent voices on the stage of people who are deciding public health policy,” he said.

Ewy plans to keep that mindset as he prepares for a career as an obstetrician-gynecologist — a specialty he became drawn to during this third-year rotation. As an OB-GYN, Ewy plans to be an advocate for women’s health issues, particularly for queer individuals.

“I’m incredibly proud of myself, all my classmates, of everyone in the health care system for continuing to show up day-by-day,” he said. “Thinking back on who I was Day One of med school, I’m a completely different person, and I’ve changed in many ways that I’m all proud of. I’m very proud to make it to this point.”

Learn more about Match Day 2022