New UF medical students adjust to life as future doctors

It was Aug. 18, the first real day of medical school classes for the UF College of Medicine’s Class of 2012, and students were already busy getting to know their microscopes, fiddling with slides and adjusting foci as tiny beams of light glowed from underneath.

Sitting in the back of the room, Sarah Yong jotted down notes as her professor, William Dunn, Ph.D., called out tidbits of information while flitting from student to student. Like most of her classmates, Yong has been waiting for this day for awhile, since she was a girl in Brunei who dreamed that one day maybe she would be a doctor.

“Every night when I get home, I think, ‘Wow, I actually did all that? I’m actually here?” Yong said after the class’ weeklong orientation, which began Aug. 11. “I have been looking forward to this all summer. Sending in orientation materials, packing … it has been a buildup of emotions.”

Sarah Yong gathers instruments during her first day in the Anatomy lab. Photo by Sarah Kiewel

Sarah Yong gathers instruments during her first day in the Anatomy lab. Photo by Sarah Kiewel

About seven years ago, Yong moved to the United States from Brunei, a country south of China on the island of Borneo. She completed her bachelor’s degree in California and her masters’ degree at the University of South Florida, where she studied immunology and did medical research in worms.

“It was a really good experience, but I also (realized) that given the chance, I would still love to practice medicine,” said Yong, who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and studied English in school.

Of course when it comes to speaking American English, she also admits she owes a little something to Big Bird.

“I watched ‘Sesame Street,'” Yong said. “I learned English in school from kindergarten – in Brunei you start when you are 3. I (also) watched cartoons. All the channels would offer Malay, Chinese and English programs, and my family would watch mostly English.”

In the new College of Medicine class, Yong is one of several students who grew up in another country.

Although he has lived in Gainesville for seven years, Kamil Nowicki grew up in Poland. Like Yong, Nowicki said he has known he has wanted to be a doctor since he was a child.

“It was watching my dad work,” said Nowicki, whose father is an anesthesiologist at Shands AGH. “He used to be an emergency physician, and I remember a young lady came to our apartment with her son. He was feverish, and she was very upset … it was just great to see him be able to calm her down and do something for that family in the middle of the night.”

Since starting medical school at UF three weeks ago, Nowicki said he is “loving it.”

“It’s an interesting and dedicated bunch of people, people from different backgrounds,” he said of his 134 classmates. “It’s amazing.”

While many students have struggled with getting to know the labyrinth that is the HSC, Stacey Stevens has had a bit of help – her twin sister, Shelley Stevens, a second-year UF College of Pharmacy student.

“She knows the HSC like the back of her hand,” said Stevens. “It’s been a big bonus. I’m a little more settled.”

Stevens and her family have lived in Gainesville since she and her sister were in middle school. The sisters both attended UF for their undergraduate degrees and were scholarship athletes who played for the women’s softball team.

“We’re serious Gators,” she said. “We played a sport and wore the uniform so it has a lot of meaning for us.”