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Grad finds strength while realizing dream

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
“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 medical school.
“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 said.
“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 coastline.
“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 success.”
“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 Medicine.
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

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.