From NCCU to Harvard Medical School, Alumna Succeeds as Pediatric Anesthesiologist

Posted May 10, 2024, 11:03AM

In the summer after her freshman year at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), Annika Webb attended a recruitment fair for medical schools in North Carolina. A representative listened to Webb talk about her interest in their medical school (Webb declines to name it) and her 4.0 grade point average. 

“She said a 4.0 at NCCU doesn’t hold the same weight as a 4.0 at a bigger school,” Dr. Webb recalled. 

The punchline is that after graduating from NCCU, Dr. Webb was accepted to Harvard Medical School. According to the 2023-2024 rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Harvard ranks first among U.S. medical schools in research and second in anesthesiology. 

Dr. Webb was raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. In middle school, she decided to be a doctor, though initially she wanted to become a general pediatrician. 

Dr. Webb is a second-generation graduate of NCCU, where her parents met. She received a full-ride scholarship and majored in biology. 

To this day, Dr. Webb is happy she attended NCCU. “I met great people, great mentors and colleagues,” she said. “I grew up and gained a lot of confidence in myself. I appreciated that before venturing off and going to a big ivy league school.” 

At Harvard, like other medical schools, her first two years were mostly in the classroom. “Studying and taking tests, I didn't find that too challenging,” she said. 

In their third year, students begin clinical rotations. Dr. Webb found that more difficult. 

“In the first couple of years of medical school, it’s all objective,” Dr. Webb said. “In clinical rotation, it is about how people perceive you.” 

Dr. Webb acknowledges that she was a bit more reserved than many of her classmates and that reserve – along with being a Black woman in a majority white space – might have led her doctor-instructors to perceive her as being less engaged. 

“I was used to sitting back and then asking questions and not jumping right in,” Dr. Webb said. 

Antonio Baines, Ph.D., an NCCU associate professor in biological and biomedical sciences, agrees with her characterization. Dr. Webb worked at Baines research lab while an undergraduate. 

“A quiet demeanor but you could tell she was competent in what she was doing,” Baines said. “You could tell she was very intelligent, very hard working. I never really saw her stressed. She always seemed to be in control.” 

After graduating from medical school in 2013, Dr. Webb completed a residency in pediatrics and anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins University from 2013 to 2018 and was a pediatric anesthesiology fellow for one year at Duke University.  

She was hired at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill–in August 2019, where she works in the department of anesthesiology as a pediatric anesthesiologist. She likes the combination of working with children and being in an operating room.  

“No day is the same,” Dr. Webb said. “You have different types of procedures and patients.” 

During one day in April, for example, she took care of a premature child who was only a few weeks old and weighed five pounds. Later that same day, she treated a 12-year-old. 

While she likes the work, it is sometimes emotionally challenging. 

“Sometimes the things we see are really sad,” Dr. Webb said. “Children with cancer, children who have had a devastating accident. Thankfully, a lot of those kids recover really well from their illnesses.” 

For undergraduates who want to pursue a career in medicine, Dr. Webb suggests being intentional about their activities.  

“People have a checklist to have everything on their (medical school) application,” Dr. Webb said. “I think it is better to do the things you are passionate about. Try to tell a story that shows this is what I really want to do.” 

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