As a young college student who shadowed physicians while in high school, Shelly (Strickland) Lowery ‘04 was initially uncertain whether she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. She opted to double major in biomedical and biological engineering at NC State, believing these fields to be the best match for her love of mathematics and science as well as her tentative interest in medicine.
But Lowery’s undergraduate experience encompassed far more than just formulas and microscopes. In addition to being active in the Native American Student Association and the University Scholars Program, Lowery spent six weeks soaking up Italian culture while studying abroad in Florence.
“The other opportunities, outside of the classroom, are what really help shape who you are, and eventually, the path that you achieve personally and professionally,” she said.
As freshmen, Lowery and her fellow Park Scholars visited her hometown of Pembroke, N.C. during Learning Lab I, and she took pride in sharing aspects of her Lumbee heritage with her peers. A Lumbee community elder performed storytelling for the group, and Lowery dressed in traditional Pinecone Patchwork regalia. This passion for her tribal culture, coupled with her growing interest in healthcare, motivated Lowery to apply for the Morris K. Udall Scholarship – which she ultimately received. The Udall Scholarship is awarded to college sophomores and juniors on the basis of leadership, public service, and commitment to issues related to American Indian nations or to the environment.
While Lowery enjoyed her engineering studies and even completed the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, she realized she desired interaction with people on a more personal level than she’d previously thought. She credits Susan Blanchard, former professor and associate chair of NC State’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Park Faculty Scholar for the Class of 2003, for her guidance in deciding to apply to medical school.
“She helped me realize that as a medical doctor, I would have endless professional opportunities,” Lowery said of Blanchard. “Not to mention the personal fulfillment that is to be gained from helping others in that capacity.”
Lowery went on to earn her medical degree from East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine in 2008. As a medical student she received the Schweitzer Fellowship, a program dedicated to preparing future professionals to empower vulnerable individuals to live healthier lives and create healthier communities. Lowery found that the Schweitzer Fellowship afforded her the same sense of balance she needed to remain true to herself and her calling that the Park Scholarships program did for her during her undergraduate years. While academics were always important to Lowery, she maintains that service and leadership are vital for achieving a balanced, fulfilled life.
During her residency in family medicine at McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, S.C., Lowery further developed her leadership skills by serving for one year as a chief resident. Since then, she has returned to her hometown to practice at Pembroke Family Practice, part of the Scotland Healthcare Network.
“My husband and I considered other opportunities,” said Lowery, “But in the end I knew that my calling was to give back to so many people who had been influential in helping me achieve my goals. As a physician, particularly in primary care, really ‘knowing’ your community helps you be more effective in keeping them healthy. I wanted to be able to serve my community in this way.”
Lowery currently chairs the Quality Committee of her hospital system’s Physicians Network Leadership Council. In this role, she is responsible for identifying disease-based outcomes that are important to their patient population and using electronic medical records to track both patients’ results and providers’ performance. The goal of the initiative is to improve patient outcomes.
Ever mindful of the significance of a balanced life, Lowery makes time to teach Sunday school, sing in her church choir, try out new recipes, and enjoy the outdoors with her husband and three-year-old daughter. In January she returned to NC State as the keynote speaker for the 20th annual Freshman Honors Convocation, sponsored by Multicultural Student Affairs. She also stays connected with the Park Scholarships program by serving annually on the Selection Committee.
Particularly when in need of a confidence-booster, Lowery fondly remembers her Park Class of 2004 senior retreat to Yellowstone National Park.
“Being able to see that part of our country and marvel at the beauty of Yellowstone is something I will never forget,” she said. “I hiked twelve miles with my classmates during that trip. It was difficult, but I have reflected on that challenge many times when faced with other obstacles. The lessons learned in moments like that stay with you forever.”