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Med School Welcomes Class of 2021

As young UCF scientists, Simeon Thibeaux and Kristen Hosang discovered how fats harm the heart and cause Alzheimer’s disease. On Monday, the couple took the next step in their medical journey together – receiving their white coats on the first day of medical school.

Thibeaux and Hosang were among 120 first-year students recognized at the College of Medicine’s Class of 2021 White Coat Ceremony, a med school tradition that recognizes newly enrolled students as colleagues in healthcare. They, like many in the new class – 109 of 120 – did research before they came to medical school. The College of Medicine’s focus on research, its location in Orlando’s emerging Medical City and its innovative teaching and learning tools were reasons both decided to continue their medical training at UCF.

“Today is almost surreal,” Thibeaux said moments after receiving his white coat. “Seven years of studying in undergrad and for my Masters…med school is finally here for us. I’m ready to make a difference.”

Making a difference is a theme of UCF’s White Coat Ceremony. Each year, Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and founding dean, conducts the students’ first class, called “The Good Doctor.” In it, she asks new students to imagine the person they love most in the world is seriously ill with a disease doctors can’t diagnose. She asks them to imagine being at the clinic with their beloved person, waiting to see another physician. What traits do they want that doctor to have?

Students suggest characteristics that Dr. German writes on a blackboard that remains on display the entire year. This year’s list of 48 traits included altruistic, resilient, empathetic, humble, brave and affordable – a term that generated strong applause from White Coat attendees in the Pegasus Ballroom in the UCF Student Union.

“This is your contract with me, your faculty, friends, family, community and each other,” Dr. German said, pointing to the words. “With the guidance of the faculty and your own hard work, you will become The Good Doctor.”

Maryam Zeinomar said The Good Doctor class made her think of her father. Mohammad, a pediatric gastroenterologist. Ever since she was a child, Zeinomar said she was struck by her father’s commitment to caring for others. “It is his passion, something he really goes after,” she said. “It’s not a job.” Zeinomar did her undergraduate work at Case Western Reserve and her passion is women’s health. After med school, she hopes to improve medical access to other women who share her Muslim faith.

Zach Helm knows first-hand what it means to have one of The Good Doctors. As a junior at Oregon State University, he collapsed from Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome, a disorder of the heart’s electrical system. Hospitalized and requiring surgery, he met “the coolest dude in the world. He was just a kind, charismatic doctor. I had known that I wanted to be in healthcare, but I thought maybe I wanted to be a physician’s assistant. After that experience, I said ‘I want to be that guy’ — the guy who was able to walk into the room and make me feel comfortable and I want to be able to do that for other people.”

He’s been in Orlando for 11 days and is focused on the next four years. “I’m looking forward to putting my nose to the grindstone, going in and working and trying to make a difference, helping patients and helping my classmates,” said Helm, who worked as a scribe in an emergency room for two years in Portland. “The journey itself through these next four years and all the unique experiences that we’re going to have, I’m just excited for it all.”

Monday’s White Coat Ceremony was the ninth in the UCF College of Medicine’s young history. The Class of 2021 is the fifth at full enrollment of 120. So far, UCF has graduated 376 physicians, with students scoring in the top quartile nationally in all measures of performance.

In welcoming attendees, UCF President John C. Hitt talked of the medical school’s accomplishments in such a short time. “At this time 10 years ago, we had yet to break ground for the medical college,” he said. “And it was just seven years ago that we moved into a facility that anchors a thriving Medical City that is transforming Central Florida’s health care, economy, and lifestyle.” He also noted that the medical school just received state approval to create the UCF Lake Nona Medical Center, an academic hospital in partnership with the Hospital Corporation of America.

He told new students they were joining “a bold young medical college that aspires to be a 21st Century model for medical education.” He noted that the 59 women and 61 men were selected from a pool of 4,823 applicants based on their academic excellence and passion for medicine. They graduated from institutions including

Stanford, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Duke, the Air Force Academy, Wake Forest, University of Florida and UCF. Nineteen have master’s or doctoral degrees, and they speak 29 languages in addition to English.

Matt Sasaki came to the White Coat Ceremony from California, with his grandmother, parents and aunt. He joked that the family is sharing hotel space with his Ikea furnishings because he hasn’t moved into his Orlando apartment yet. As his family beamed, he talked about preparing for med school – an undergraduate degree in biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in public health from USC. He described by name the orthopedic specialist who had helped him with sports-related knee injuries as a child and inspired him to seek a career in medicine. “Today is amazing,” he said, sporting his white coat. “It was a long time coming and now it’s happening.”

For a video version of this story, please visit https://youtu.be/EVp1Xr-mdJQ [1]