UF College of Medicine graduates who came back to campus for the annual Alumni Weekend festivities Oct. 2-4 were met with quite a different sight thanks to the college’s new medical education building.
Nearly 250 of the college’s alumni traveled back to Gainesville to reconnect with one another, interact with current students and see how campus has grown since their time at UF. The weekend’s events included a student panel, breakfast with the deans, tours of the new George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building and a reunion dinner at the Hilton UF Conference Center for the M.D. classes of 1960, 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010 and the PA classes of 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010.
Before the celebrating classes dinner, James Montelaro, M.D. ’90, reminisced with former classmates at the class of 1990 cocktail hour. Montelaro, an otolaryngologist from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tries to make it to reunion when his schedule permits. He was last in Gainesville for Alumni Weekend 2010, when the college dedicated the George T. Harrell, M.D., historical marker.
“I enjoy coming down and seeing what everyone is up to,” Montelaro said. “It is wonderful to see the changes happening, and it’s exciting to see the vibrant atmosphere of the college. I am so impressed with the new medical education building. I feel honored to be a graduate of this great university.”
Aside from nostalgia and camaraderie, the reunion dinner also included accolades, as UF College of Medicine dean Michael L. Good, M.D., announced the latest Wall of Fame selection. Craig Kitchens, M.D. ’70, a hematology researcher and professor emeritus of medicine at UF, was chosen as the latest Wall of Fame inductee for his dedication to medicine, patient care and education.
Good also presented Sonja Rasmussen, M.D. ’90, with the Dean’s Award for Leadership for her impact in the public health sector. Rasmussen, who holds several positions within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hosted this year’s notable alumnus lecture, “Ebola, Pandemic Influenza and Other Global Killers: A Public Health Perspective.”
Alumni celebrating milestone reunion years banded together to support their alma mater as well. Five classes raised enough money to name rooms in the Harrell Medical Education Building, while two other classes pooled together to help provide first-year medical students with stethoscopes. Collectively, more than $2.7 million has been raised for various College of Medicine funds due to reunion giving this year.
“It is gratifying to witness how the generosity of our graduates is changing the way we educate and train future Gator physicians and physician assistants,” Good told the crowd. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all you have done to help move the College of Medicine forward.”
Reunion activities also included an alumni-student speed networking session in the Harrell Medical Education Building’s circular learning studio, where doctors-in-training and practicing physicians discussed specialties and swapped stories about life at the College of Medicine.
One alumnus shared advice on how to land prime residency slots, while another discussed experiences with patient care. And every five minutes, a buzzer cut through the chatter, signaling students to shuffle to the next table. After the networking session, some students and alumni even lingered in the learning studio, eager to continue the conversation.
“It was really nice to see alumni come back, and they’re so willing to give great advice,” said second-year medical student Deina Bossa, noting that some of the most helpful tips she received pertained to finding mentors in fields of interest, running a private practice and keeping the next career step in mind.
The festivities continued with a tailgate in the new building, where a sea of orange- and blue-clad alumni and students sprawled from the Scott Commons to the outdoor terrace. Some Gator fans lingered in the learning studio, watching football on the projector screens, while others indulged in a sweet treat from the snow cone truck or posed in the photo booth.
The nostalgia of days gone by mixed with the excitement of days to come as graduates clustered around tables to reminisce about their time at UF and students gathered on couches outside the admissions office to soak up words of wisdom from fellow Gators.
“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Reuben Brigety, M.D. ’70, told students of pursuing a career in medicine. Brigety was the first African-American to graduate from the UF College of Medicine and went on to become an obstetrician-gynecologist, delivering about 2,000 babies during his years of practice.
“I cannot tell you anything more rewarding than bringing new life into the world,” he said. “It still brings me chills, and it still brings me chills to come back to the University of Florida.”