A Legacy in Rural Medicine

Katy Brewer will be a part of history when she graduates in the charter
class of the Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in 2017. She’ll also
be carrying on a legacy — her great-great uncle really is in the
history books as one of Harnett County’s first physicians.

Dr. James H. Withers (1856-1928) spent most of his life in the Leaflet Community between Lillington and Sanford and even served as Harnett’s Clerk of Superior Court from 1901 to 1907. According to Myrtle H. Sykes, former president of the Mount Pisgah Extension Homemakers Club, Dr. Withers was a “conscientious doctor and a friend to all his patients. When a patient was critically ill, Dr. Withers would stay in the home with them until the condition improved. He was one of the good, old-fashioned doctors.”

It’s just the kind of doctor Brewer — a native of Sanford and graduate of Wake Forest University — hopes to one day be.

“It means a lot to me to follow in footsteps like that,” she said. “I want to be the kind of doctor who’s well loved and respected in their community. It made sense to me to choose a school where the goal is to train physicians to serve in rural and underserved areas.”

Nearly 100 years ago, Withers, who was in his early 60s at the time, was one of the few physicians in Harnett County helping fight the flu pandemic of 1918 that wiped out between 3 to 5 percent of the world’s population and killed about 13,600 North Carolinians (and infected nearly half of the state) in a two-year span. In “Harnett County: A History,” author John Hairr wrote that doctors and druggists at the time fought the flu with little jars of a salve-like substance called Vick’s Pneumonia cure. Community members constantly checked on each other — if someone’s chimney wasn’t burning on any given day, neighbors would check on them … often finding bad news.

Much has changed in medicine in the last 100 years, yet many communities in North Carolina lack quality physicians and health care even now. Brewer and her classmates, who are entering Year 2 this fall, are out to change that.

“My intent all along was to stay in North Carolina for my training, and I fell in love with Campbell,” Brewer said. “I love helping people, and I love science and learning why things happen to our mind and our bodies.”