by Cindy Abole
“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the
other,” wrote 19th century priest and author Walter Elliott.
Dr. Cecelia Baskett tries on her cap with help from medical student Kess Mughelli.
If this is true, then College of Medicine graduate Cecelia Baskett,
M.D., can be considered a master sprinter like American gold medalist
Gail Devers. Despite the obstacles, Baskett has run the distance and
completed her medical school education.
Vivacious and engaging, Baskett’s story is defined by courage, patience
and determination. During second semester of her first year of
medical school, she noticed that she struggled to stay focused in her
studies, began failing exams and lacked the energy or motivation to get
out of bed. Realizing she needed to take care of her own health before
helping others, she approached staff at the College of Medicine’s
dean’s office, which referred her to the Counseling and
Psychological Services (CAPS), a part of the Division of Education and
Student Services. She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, not
once but twice, throughout her years on campus. Subsequently, she was
granted a leave of absence for each case, which extended her time in
“There are medical students out there who suffer silently with
depression,” said Baskett. “No one talks about it because as medical
students, we think we need to live up to the stereotype of being smart,
strong and perfect. The dean’s office has an open door policy for all
medical students. I knew they would be my advocate whether it meant
getting help for myself or leaving school indefinitely. The staff
reassured me that what I was going through was not rare or unusual.
They got me the treatment I needed and that gave me hope. They also
provided me with the tools and resources I needed to finish school and
achieve my dreams.”
“If anyone could graduate from medical school after so many challenges,
it’s Cecelia,” said Myra Haney Singleton, director of academics and
student support for the College of Medicine. “She’s managed to
maintain her bearings, despite several setbacks, plus the fact that her
original medical school class graduated three years earlier. She’s
remained tenacious and determined to finish her dream. Her brightest
day will be the day she receives her medical diploma.”
For Baskett, facing her fears and diagnosis empowered her to want to
help others. “I was ready to open that door for discussion and try and
displace any shame related to depression and mental illness,” Baskett
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that medical students aren’t
perfect; they’re human,” Singleton said. “There’s a sense of failure
when most students learn they won’t finish with their class. But the
more important issue is that they finish medical school.”
For Baskett, completing medical school was part of a lifelong dream.
The daughter of a nurse and single mother, Baskett grew up in Columbia,
where her mother worked at Richland Memorial Hospital. A participant in
the Mid-Carolina Area Health Education Consortium’s summer health
careers program, Baskett was formally introduced to medicine and
careers in the health profession as a teenager. She also worked as a
hospital volunteer and helped care for Alzheimer patients in clinics.
At 14, she visited MUSC for the first time during a field trip.
Considered a good student, Baskett graduated from Eau Claire High
School then went to Howard University, where she graduated in 1998. For
a year after college, she worked various jobs—a waitress, bank teller,
and Medicab driver and emergency medical technician.
Aboard the Mercy Ship
An avid traveler, Baskett participated in several medical mission trips
and visited Africa five times. A friend who knew of her dream to become
a physician encouraged her to apply to the Mercy Ship, the world’s
largest charity hospital ship that advances teams of missionaries to
visit and screen patients in villages and communities and coordinate
care with medical providers for various treatment.
In 2001, she worked aboard the Mercy Ship, Africa Mercy, and assisted
staff in one of the ship’s three ORs. Its mission is to provide medical
and dental care and relief to patients located off West Africa’s
“The experience totally changed my life,” said Baskett. “It taught me
to love people more and that different thinking and views were not
wrong. They’re just different. The experience also taught me to respect
other people’s cultures and religions.”
While aboard the Mercy Ship, she learned of her acceptance to MUSC and medical school.
Renewal of strength
At MUSC, Baskett found renewed strength and confidence following her
diagnosis and treatment for depression. “I knew I had to face myself,
give it all to God and let it go,” said Baskett, describing the
continuous stress and pressure of academic performance. “I promised
myself that I would be proud, strive forward and believe in myself,
regardless of the past and what others thought of me. It was one of the
hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Friend and fellow medical student Kess Mughelli, knew Baskett since her
second year. They often shared and discussed their own challenges and
setbacks through the years but remained positive, supportive “partners
in the trenches.” Together, they share a strong faith in God and
regularly attended the Medical Campus Outreach’s Bible Study classes.
“I’m both sad and happy that she’s finishing this chapter of her
journey,” said Mughelli. “She’s demonstrated that perseverance and hard
work does pay off. In Missouri, she’ll be an inspiring force in her
residency experience. She loves people, God and genuinely wants to be
part of the lives of the people she will care for. I wish her every
“For students struggling through academic, personal or life issues,
it’s important that students seek help immediately and consider taking
a break from their studies,” Singleton said. “Many need time to regroup
and resolve issues effectively. When they return, they’ll be more
focused and successful. When we recruit our students, we want to be
there to help nurture and support them throughout the process of
becoming physicians. If the physician is not well, it will be difficult
for them to provide optimum care to their patients.”
“Cecelia’s a wonderful, kind person who’s had struggles throughout
medical school—struggles that would have made a lesser person give up
and quit. Fortunately, she attended medical school at MUSC, which gave
her the resources she needed and a second chance. Cecelia had a medical
condition that impaired her ability to function at her top level. In
order for her to achieve, she committed a good-faith effort by
embracing suggestions, communicated with staff and demonstrated
diligence, which allowed her to persevere and achieve success,” said
Jeffrey G. Wong, M.D., senior dean for medical education, College of
After graduation, Baskett will begin a three-year residency at Cox
Family Medicine Residency Program in Springfield, Mo., working in
underserved areas of Southwest Missouri and Northern Arkansas.
“I’ll always be grateful to the kind and caring people here at MUSC,”
Baskett said, who plans to return to South Carolina after residency and
work in a rural practice. She also hopes to continue her passion
of making a difference by helping out with medical mission trips. “They
certainly are advocates for their students in whatever their needs.
Because of that, I want to be an advocate to students. I love to
counsel and support others in areas I have experience in.”
Three things that helped you through medical school: My faith, family and friends, and my Chihuahuas, Rockie and Daniel.
Words of advice to fellow medical students: Enjoy the journey and let God and others help you along the way. Don’t give up.
Biggest challenge following graduation: Moving to Missouri and packing all of my Star Trek movies!
Friday, May 15, 2009