Four years later: Lauren Van Eldik follows in family footsteps

As blood gushed out of a friend’s foot, 6-year-old Lauren Van Eldik stood close by to examine it while other kids ran away from the bloody scene. What scared away most kids fascinated and intrigued her.

Those reactions as a child have not changed to this day. Van Eldik, a fourth-year student at the UF College of Medicine, is now only a few months away from medical school graduation.

Lauren Van Eldik poses with her father, Richard Van Eldik, M.D., a 1980 graduate of UF COM, in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium after her undergraduate commencement. Photo provided by Lauren Van Eldik

She has multiple physicians in her family, but Van Eldik was drawn to medicine and science on her own. She was always paying attention to the sick and wounded.

“I always knew she was going to be a physician,” said her father, Richard Van Eldik, M.D., a gastroenterologist who graduated from the UF College of Medicine in 1980. “Her going into medicine was a dream come true. Her going to the University of Florida and becoming a Gator doc is an ultimate dream come true.”

Lauren Van Eldik, kissed her grandfather, a former physician, as she walks down the stage after receiving her white coat. Her father, Richard Van Eldik, who is a COM graduate and gastroenerologist, also escorted her on stage. Photo by Priscilla Santos.

When Lauren Van Eldik first became a medical student, her hectic schedule and a plethora of new information crowded out everything else in her life. She soon realized that in order to learn well and provide the best care for patients, she needed to make time for herself and others.

“In the past four years, I’ve probably matured more than my entire life combined,” she said. “You come out of college as the cream of the crop, but being in med school is a reality check.”

Van Eldik is no stranger to working hard and maintaining balance in life. The winner of the 2003 National Hunter Seat Medal Final, a coveted equestrian prize, she made the list of the country’s top competitive horseback riders for several years.

Lauren Van Eldik. Photo by Maria Belen Farias

The equestrian titleholder hopes to go back to riding some day, but her true calling in life remains helping others through medicine.

Van Eldik’s original plan was to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, but after her surgical oncology and plastic surgery rotations, she fell in love with plastic surgery. 

“It’s a challenging but creative field,” she said. “I really want to work in reconstructive plastic surgery, working with cancer patients.”

Having found this new interest, she switched specialties after most of her classmates had already settled on their choices. Because of the late change, preparing her residency application was nerve-wracking. But with the help of the faculty at the UF College of Medicine, Van Eldik was able to get through. 

Lauren Van Eldik and her fiance and classmate, Andrew Kuykendall, at their White Coat Ceremony in 2010. Photo provided by Lauren Van Eldik

“We have the best faculty who are the biggest student advocates,” she said. “They really provide opportunities to help us get better.”

Van Eldik feels blessed to have met so many amazing people, including her future husband, classmate Andrew Kuykendall. The two will get married in April after couples matching in March. 

She looks forward to the next chapters of life, in which she hopes to continue learning and growing as an individual, wife and physician. 

“I think you are always a student in medicine,” she said. “That’s the beauty of medicine. But the responsibility to take care of a patient is a privilege.”