Giving back through medicine

Anna Dodson is driven by her desire to serve rural populations, particularly her own community in Bunn, North Carolina. As a physician, she plans to return home to be her community's primary care provider for the rest of her career.

Anna Dodson
Anna Dodson (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

On Friday, Anna Dodson will be among the nearly 200 Carolina medical students who will match for their residency programs, signifying the end of their time in medical school and the start of a new chapter in their careers.

But Dodson hasn’t always seen herself as a doctor. It wasn’t until she started her undergraduate studies at Carolina that she saw it as an option. Growing up, she wanted to be a politician — more specifically, the first female president of the United States. Always focused on community, she knew she wanted to make a career out of service.

At Carolina, she found another way to give back: through medicine.

“The Morehead-Cain Scholarship is the only reason I got any exposure to health care in the way that I was able to,” said Dodson ‘14, ‘22 (MPH). “Because of that scholarship, the summer between my senior year of high school and my first year at Carolina, I did this wilderness EMT program in the middle of nowhere Lander, Wyoming. I was like, ‘Seeing patients is really fun.’ I really enjoy the intellectual challenge that is medicine.”

The Morehead-Cain Scholarship provided Dodson with other opportunities to learn about health care and public health up close, including a summer working on community health projects in underserved areas in Nicaragua. The experiences inspired her to complete her undergraduate degree in health policy and management and fueled her interest in public health problems that go beyond the individual.

She saw medicine as her route to serve others.

“Through that program, I decided, ‘OK. I want to pursue medicine, but I don’t want to do that with the absence of this community and population health understanding,’” Dodson said. “So, I decided to come to Carolina [for medical school], where we have an excellent opportunity to integrate those two things.”

While she was in medical school, Dodson’ also earned a master’s degree in public health from UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“I applied very broadly for medical school,” she said, “But when I interviewed at Carolina, I just recognized that, ‘These people really share the same values as me and are also deeply committed to the same community that I hope to serve long term. So why on Earth would I go anywhere else?’”

As a medical student, Dodson became a Kenan Rural Primary Care Medical Scholar, a cohort of medical students who envision themselves serving rural communities in the future. As part of the program, Dodson spent a summer working in a clinic and on a nutrition project in Sampson County.

Dodson is driven by her desire to serve rural populations, particularly her own community in Bunn, North Carolina, the rural community of nearly 350 people in Franklin County, where she was raised.

“Because I come from a very small rural community, once I was given acceptance into medical schools, I knew that it was honestly a duty of mine to return to that community and serve them for the long term,” she said. “I saw that there was so much potential in my hometown. There were so many good things about it, but in many ways, that was being limited by a lack of access. We really only had one doctor in town who is now well near retirement age. I’ve been given this incredible chance to go to medical school. I love my home community, so why wouldn’t I go back? It makes a lot of sense because I can fill that vacuum that’s going to be created pretty soon by this other provider, and I can help be a part of the solution to the problem that I saw growing up.”

She ultimately plans to return to Bunn to help establish a federally qualified health center or a free and reduced clinic where everyone in the community can receive high-quality care.

As for the upcoming Match Day, Dodson said she hopes to match into a family medicine program passionate about taking holistic care of patients to prepare her to serve in the Bunn community as a primary care provider.

“I hope that over the next three years of family medicine training, I am empowered and given all of the skills that I’ll need to be that full-scope, jack-of-all-trades provider in my home community in the future,” she said.

On March 17, Dodson matched into family medicine at the University of North Carolina Hospitals.