One journey ends, 124 new ones begin

They clustered near the front of the stage, each waiting for a few moments they would likely remember the rest of their lives:

The moment they would sign the Hippocratic Oath, scrawling two significant letters after their names for the first time ever — M.D.

The moment they would officially be called “Doctor” for the first time.

The moment they would walk across the stage, eliciting a chorus of cheers from the audience gathered in the Philips Center for the Performing Arts to see the College of Medicine Class of 2009 graduate.

“It’s pretty surreal,” said Omayra Marrero, M.D., after she and her fellow graduates filtered outside after the ceremony. “But it’s worth every tear shed, every extra hour worked. It’s awesome.”

For Marrero, the day was the culmination of a decision she made nine years ago to move to Gainesville for medical school. Just 20 at the time, she decided to take a year off to grow up a little. She took a job with Shands, and one year turned into five.

But on Saturday, she finally arrived at the moment she had imagined.

“This is really what my calling is,” said Marrero, who is headed to Charlotte, N.C., for a residency in emergency medicine. “My dad is in the Army, that is how he serves others. He has very much instilled that in us, that your job, in one way or another on this Earth, is to serve others. And this is my way.”

Hong Vo poses proudly with her family following the commencement ceremony. Photo by Sarah Kiewel

Hong Vo poses proudly with her family following the commencement ceremony. Photo by Sarah Kiewel

Reflecting on her four years in medical school, Sherita Holmes, M.D., said she felt “overcome with gratitude” as she thought about the College of Medicine faculty and staff who helped her along the way. At the college, she found a home away from home in the Office of Minority Affairs. And she’s met people who have guided her, like Kyle Rarey, Ph.D., who teaches first-year anatomy and serves as senior associate dean for educational affairs, and people who she wants to emulate, such as Patrick Duff, M.D., the associate dean of student affairs and registration.

“I am just overwhelmed with gratitude for everything they have done to support us,” said Holmes, now headed to the University of Chicago for her pediatrics residency. “I just hope they realize what a mark they made in my life and how they are going to make me a better doctor.”

As graduations often are, the day was bittersweet in a way for graduates, too, as they prepared to say goodbye to their classmates.

“We spent almost 50 percent of our lives over the past four years either in the classroom or in the hospital,” said Chris Staudinger, M.D.

“Just the people you meet and the stuff you go through together makes it worthwhile. I am going to miss a lot of these people.”
Although one portion of their medical education is over, the 124 graduates are now entering more specialized fields. Aside from a few graduates who are pursuing sabbatical years, the college’s graduates are all headed into residency training. And, in a way, the training will never stop, even after their residencies end.

Changes in medicine, from the advent of personalized medicine to advances in science and technology, will require students to continually learn throughout their careers, said commencement speaker J. Glenn Morris, M.D., M.P.H., director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute.

“What is not going to change is the moment when you sit face to face with a patient to provide reassurance, to share the joy of a birth and the sadness of a death,” Morris said. “This is who we are as physicians.”

Saba H. Jafri celebrates with her family as a new "M.D."

Saba H. Jafri celebrates with her family as a new "M.D."

And most importantly, no matter what the obstacles, this year’s graduates are ready to tackle them, said Michael L. Good, M.D., interim dean of the college.

“Let me challenge you to change the world,” Good said. “Our nation and our world face unprecedented challenges, especially in medicine and in health care. You are well prepared. You have what it takes to help create a better tomorrow for all of us. So I challenge you dream big, work hard, give thanks and achieve joy in your own life by giving it to others.”