College of Medicine students, faculty and staff give back

UF College of Medicine students and faculty are helping to brighten the holidays for a record number of families and children participating in the Interdisciplinary Family Health program this year. 

More than 50 families — including 117 children — will receive gifts and food this year, thanks to the efforts of UF medical students and other first-year health professions students, said Gina Murray, assistant director of the IFH program and organizer of the annual holiday gift drive. 

Gifts collected for IFH families in need are stacked in the office of Gina Murray, assistant director of the IFH program and organizer of the annual holiday gift drive. Photo by Maria Belen Farias

“That’s a little bit more than we’ve done in the past, but we try to help,” Murray said. “Each year we seem to have more and more need.” 

Many first-year health professions students participate in the IFH program, which send interdisciplinary teams of students out into the community to work with 205 families. 

More than 617 students from the colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Dentistry and Public Health and Health Professions were assigned to a team this fall. The teams visit their assigned families in their homes four times a year, collaborate on case discussions and develop a health care plan for their families, which range in size and income. 

The holiday gift drive was started eight years ago and since then, the effort has grown. Last year, the IFH drive helped more than 40 families and 98 children, Murray said. 

“We try to help the children first, then elders and parents,” she said. “Each year, I think ‘How am I going to do this?’ and somehow we pull it off.” 

Students form other medical school classes and residents also adopt families. 

Third-year UF College of Medicine student Brett Bentley was looking for a way to get his classmates together for a good cause this holiday season. 

“Since we are all on different rotations, we are all split up,” said Bentley, who is the community service chair for his class. “I knew IFH was a great organization, and Gina knows all the families.” 

So he organized a tacky holiday sweater party on Dec. 2 at a classmate’s house to collect toys and grocery money for an adopted IFH family. About 20 students attended and collected 15 toys and $75 to purchase food. 

On Dec. 11, Bentley and three other classmates delivered the items to Marie Molinaro, a Gainesville grandmother who has been in the IFH program for two years. The toys will go to Molinaro’s four young grandchildren. This is the second year the program has helped Molinaro during the holiday season. 

Third-year UF College of Medicine student Brett Bentley and educational coordinator Cindy Wielgos organize some of the many presents donated to IFH families in need. Photo by Maria Belen Farias

“That has been a true blessing. It would have been very slim to none without it,” Molinaro said. “I really do appreciate the students.” 

College of Medicine faculty members and individual departments, such as the Office of Educational Affairs and the Department of Pediatrics, also adopt families. 

“There are lots of people (at the college) who do this, and Gina is very helpful in identifying families,” said Maureen Novak, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics and associate dean for medical education. 

And some students and faculty members even make their gifts more personal. 

“We even have some faculty who bake cookies,” Murray said. “This is a good part of Christmas.”