Associate Professor of Medicine Nancy McGreal was recently awarded the inaugural Triangle Community Impact Honor by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
The award recognizes a community leader who is “making a difference in the world.”
Over the past 19 years, McGreal has held multiple positions in the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, including chair of the Carolinas Health Care Professional Engagement Committee and co-chair of the Duke-UNC patient education programs. On Sept. 30, her work was celebrated during an event called A Night on the Town Triangle.
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding and researching treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The foundation has been expanding and seeking partnership in the Triangle Area due to the region’s research infrastructure.
“It did not take us more than probably two seconds to know that our first [Triangle] Community Impact Award would definitely go to Dr. McGreal,” said Kris Ference, the foundation’s manager of fundraising campaigns and volunteer engagement. “She shares the mission of the Foundation, and she shares it with her patients, and she's very passionate about it.”
Ference said that the Community Impact Award is meant to honor the people who choose to make a difference and also to spread hope that people such as McGreal are willing to make a difference.
“I was very humbled to have been selected for this award,” McGreal said. “It's very nice to receive that recognition.”
Outside the clinic
Aside from her leadership positions, McGreal has worked with the Crohn’s and Colitis foundation to support patients with IBD outside of the clinic.
McGreal worked as a medical director for Camp Oasis, a summer camp for children with IBD. She ensured children were receiving medication, changed ostomy appliances and set up tube feeds for children experiencing malnourishment.
“It was a week for the kids to go swimming, do archery, do a whole bunch of activities just like any other kid would want to do,” she said.
McGreal is also the captain of Duke’s team for Take Steps, a spring walk event to raise awareness and encourage donations for IBD treatment research.
“Usually we raise anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000, that goes directly back into patient education and research,” McGreal said. “We are also there to try to advance the field and help us ultimately find a cure.”
Another important part of the foundation’s efforts is educating patients on recent innovations.
“There’s been an explosion in the understanding of the pathogenesis and the biology of IBD,” said McGreal.
According to Ference, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation works annually with Duke and UNC to host an in-person education event.
“Last year it was in November and Duke hosted it with the support of Dr. McGreal,” she said.
Inside the clinic
McGreal took interest in treating IBD during medical school, when she worked with a doctor who treated IBD patients. She realized that treating IBD combined her interests in autoimmunity and the gut microbiome, and she also felt a connection with IBD patients, who she described as “incredibly bright, resilient and strong.”
At the same time, McGreal struggled to choose between pursuing adult and pediatric medicine. Eventually, she chose to pursue both.
“I did a dual fellowship for both adult and pediatric gastroenterology so that I could take care of the entire lifespan,” she said. “I can continue to follow them after the age of 18 and help shepherd them as they move into young adulthood.”
McGreal is currently involved in quality improvement clinical research for the IBD community organization Improve Care Now.
Through Improve Care Now, McGreal works to facilitate the care of individuals moving to adulthood, as their care transitions from pediatric doctors to adult doctors, as well as to new local hospitals when moving for college.
“We created what's called a medical transfer summary for pediatric gastroenterologists to complete and fill out to send to an adult gastroenterologist to make sure these patients don't fall through the cracks,” McGreal said.
Upon accepting the Community Impact Award, McGreal emphasized that the patients are the true heroes in her mind.
“[The patients are] the ones who are out there … doing the best they can with this illness,” she said.
McGreal’s motivation comes from her mentors imbuing in her the importance of giving back to the community, impacting patients’ lives beyond their clinical work.
McGreal noted that IBD takes a toll not only on the body, but also on the emotional and psychological health of patients. Thus, she encourages patients to become involved themselves, leading teams for Take Steps and becoming panelists in education events.
“With any of these chronic illnesses, there can be a loss of sense of control over one's life,” she said. “When someone is able to share their experience with others, it’s very empowering. It helps them get that control back,” she said.
“One of the most rewarding things for me as a physician is just being able to see my patients get better and succeed and really just live their best life,” McGreal said, adding that her goal is “taking care of patients both inside and outside of the clinic.”
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Winston Qian is a Pratt first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.