Eric Freeman, M’02, returned to campus as the speaker at the medical school’s Second Look program.
For Eric Freeman, M’02, life is all about giving back.
“So many people gave their time, talent and treasure to mentor me and allow me to be successful. I believe that much of my success was because of my upbringing and I am around an outstanding family, my church and my community,” he says. “Now, my practice has become a ministry for me, and what better way to pay back those who helped me than to give back to my local community.”
In addition to running a busy private practice, Old Dominion Pediatrics in Richmond, Freeman volunteers with the Richmond Academy of Medicine and with the health ministry at his church, Providence Park Baptist.
He’s also committed to supporting the next generation of physicians.
That’s why he returned to the MCV Campus recently to share his experiences, learnings and advice with prospective medical students. The medical school’s Second Look program gives applicants who are members of underrepresented minorities a chance to explore the school’s programs in more depth. Each year, a weekend of activities is organized by the School of Medicine’s Office of Student Outreach, along with VCU’s chapters of the Student National Medical Association and Latino Medical Student Association. The weekend offers opportunities to interact with faculty and current students in a more relaxed atmosphere than the usual formal tours and interviews.
Freeman credits his family – his mother was a teacher, father a masonry contractor, and two aunts were physicians – for inspiring and encouraging him. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from the College of William & Mary, he found support in medical school from a variety of faculty members. He credits family medicine physician Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, now the senior associate dean for admissions, with keeping him grounded and treating him like family. Cheryl Al-Mateen, M.D., associate professor and child psychiatrist, taught him about the importance of mental health in children, something he spends a great deal of time addressing in his practice today. Linda Costanzo, Ph.D., professor emerita of physiology and biophysics, he said, was an amazing mentor and teacher. And the late Thomas Tucker, M.Ed., director of the Health Careers Opportunity Program at VCU, opened doors to the profession.
Freeman is proud of the education he received in the School of Medicine and is determined to continue the tradition of supporting others. “I think alumni have a responsibility to give back. The reason I am who I am is that there were so many people who took time with me to provide me knowledge and to give me a chance. I think that has made me a better person, a better pediatrician and a better physician.”
Donna Jackson, Ed D., assistant dean for admissions in the School of Medicine, has noticed Freeman’s commitment to others ever since he was a student on the MCV Campus.
“At VCU’s School of Medicine, service is important, and Dr. Freeman is one who got that idea,” Jackson says. “As a student, he always expressed a desire to serve in communities of need in Richmond and continued that when he returned to Richmond after residency to fulfill his life-long aspiration to practice in his hometown. Our current students can be inspired by Dr. Freeman’s journey to set goals that continually include service to others. Whether at home or in a new city or state, we want our students to give back. There is no better example of one giving back than Dr. Freeman.”
Freeman stresses that he’s just paying it forward. “It’s important to reach back and bring people along on the journey. That means a great deal to me.”
As part of that pledge, he assured Second Look participants that he would be available for students and residents alike looking for a mentor.
He also gave them some advice. “First of all, stay humble and stay hungry. People will want to help you and add to your life and to your worth. Also, when you’re humble, doors will open to you to guide you on your journey.”
The other thing, Freeman notes, is to be committed and to be consistent. He’s fond of a Denzel Washington quote: “Without commitment, you’ll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, you’ll never finish.”
By Lisa Crutchfield