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Scholar Spotlight: Casey Hribar, MD Class of 2023

Casey Hribar is a 2023 MD candidate in the UNC School of Medicine and holds the Lawrence R. Nycum, MD ’90 and Lynn Nycum Loyalty Fund Scholarship. Casey also attended UNC Chapel-Hill for her undergraduate studies, and in addition to her MD work, completed an MBA at the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Hribar previously served as Pediatric Medical Student Chief, a teaching role that helps students through the Pediatrics Clerkship. Additionally, she is the only student serving on the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Patient and Family Advisory Council at UNC Hospitals, connecting patients, families, staff and physicians to improve the clinical experience.

The below interview with Casey was conducted by Medical Alumni Affairs social media intern Maggie Albert and lightly edited for clarity.

You were the lead author of “Association Between Patient Perception of Surgeons and Color of Scrub Attire,” published in JAMA SurgeryYou credit medical alumni support with enabling you to do the research. We are curious to learn more about it and how the Medical Alumni Loyalty Fund enabled you to pursue this.

I have been fortunate to be a Medical Alumni Loyalty Fund Scholar throughout medical school which helps with tuition costs, however, additional research experiences are often things students have to seek out on their own. The research I’m most interested in is within patient perception and more qualitative projects, which don’t always have clear pathways and funding available. I met with a research mentor of mine to discuss this project idea (Dr. Carolyn Quinsey) and was able to apply for the Carolina Medical Student Research Program which takes place between the first and second years of medical school. Thankfully, I received a scholarship specifically funded by the Medical Alumni Loyalty Fund to cover the costs of living and other expenses so I could have dedicated time investigating something I was passionate about! It can be challenging to balance research efforts with coursework, so having this dedicated, protected time was a real gift.

We ultimately found that scrub color might matter to patients! Of course, there are many other aspects of the doctor-patient relationship than just dress, but scrub color is an easily modifiable aspect of appearance. Our team found that patients tended to find physicians in blue scrubs more trustworthy, caring, knowledgeable, and skilled. The most interesting and notable thing though, was that patients overwhelming disliked black scrubs. They even said black scrubs seemed “death-like” in nature and reminded them of morticians! While we obviously can’t say for sure whether one color of scrubs is better than others, it’s clear that this is a topic that warrants further investigation!

You are also pursuing an MBA, which is a somewhat unique trajectory for a medical student. Why pursue this, and what skills has it helped you develop?

I have loved my time at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and am so fortunate that the School of Medicine was willing to work with me to create a curriculum that allowed me to branch out into something new. I worked for a few years prior to med school and continued my work in a part-time capacity when time allowed. I loved the things I was doing on the business side of healthcare and the interactions I had with my non-clinical teams as much as my clinical ones. Given the ease of the dual degree logistically, it felt like the perfect time to keep both worlds open and see how they might continue to interact!

I firmly believe the MBA picks up on where medical school leaves off in some areas. There is so much to learn in medicine that it’s hard to get to everything, especially the “softer skills”. At the business school, I took classes in things that were quite different from medicine, like corporate finance. However, I also took many classes on teamwork, leadership, research skills, complex problem-solving/consulting, ethics, operations, and more that directly translate to the day-to-day requirements of clinical medicine. I felt like the MBA allowed me to have a well-rounded educational experience that jump-started some of my frameworks and skills that might take years on the job to develop otherwise!

What brought you to medical school? What has been your most impactful experience here at the UNC School of Medicine? 

 I have always been excited about complex problem-solving and the health sciences, as well as working with children and families. I thought medicine, specifically Pediatrics, would be a great way to make an impact while also stimulating my own curiosities and learning. I am someone who loves to be busy and always educationally growing, which I think is perfect for medicine. I’m excited to see what comes next in residency, but I know I’ve been set up for success coming out of the UNC SOM!

My most impactful experience at the School of Medicine is really a collection of experiences that happen all the time—interactions with some of the best peers, colleagues, educators, and staff. I truly feel like the UNC SOM is a community and the “Carolina Way” is more than just a motto. I have had some of the best residents, fellows, attendings, and other teachers who have gone out of their way to support me in ways I strive to pass forward. I’ve had conversations about life, passions, career advice, family, and everything in between with some of the many mentors I’ve developed bonds with along the way and I feel like I have a strong group of advocates in my corner for whatever comes next. I feel challenged yet looked after in a unique way that I don’t think I would have gotten elsewhere. I am proud to call Carolina home, and think it will shape my professional identity for decades to come.