While some children struggle with the question of what they want to do when they grow up, for Michael Tudeen the answer always seemed to come easily.
The Gainesville native, who will graduate from the University of Florida College of Medicine on Saturday, attended several medical mission trips and other service trips with his church throughout middle and high school and found himself drawn to the idea of improving people’s lives.
“Most kids have some phase where they say ‘I’m going to be a doctor,’ but that stuck around longer for me,” he said. “Medicine dovetailed perfectly with my desire to interact with other cultures, to reach out to people who were different than myself, to learn other languages. It’s great to build a house for a community, but in medicine, you’re working with a person to give them something tangible that can impact not only their lives but the lives of generations to come.”
After graduating from Gainesville High School in 2004, Tudeen pursued a bachelor’s degree in health education at UF and continued to foster his passion for service, conducting research on public health care in Chile for seven months, building houses in Virginia and Kentucky and, more locally, working with UF Health’s Streetlight Program, which pairs volunteers with adolescent or young adult patients with chronic illnesses.
Five year later, Tudeen deferred his acceptance to the UF College of Medicine to serve in the Peace Corps for 27 months, during which time he was placed in Nauela, Mozambique, a small Portuguese-speaking village along a dirt road lined with mango trees. While in southeastern Africa, he participated in community development projects, such as sustainable agriculture, food security and outreach related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Zambezia province.
One encounter in particular during his time in the Peace Corps helped cement his desire to pursue a career in medicine: One rainy day around Christmastime, as he prepared to travel to the provincial capital for a public health conference, a man knocked on his door asking for medication for his granddaughter, who was said to have malaria. Tudeen was unable to prescribe medication, and upon his return to the village, he learned the child had succumbed to the sickness.
“I think I saw my limitations there, where I wasn’t a pharmacist, I wasn’t a doctor,” Tudeen said. “It made me more inspired to come back and become someone who’s able to treat anything that comes his way — and if I can’t really stabilize or treat them, I can at least know what’s going on and get them to the right person. That led me toward the family medicine route.”
After returning to Gainesville, he enrolled in the College of Medicine to cultivate his passion for health care, taking on the role of academic chair of the class of 2015, acting as a liaison for faculty, staff, administrators and students and providing feedback on curriculum changes along with a handful of his classmates.
During his time in medical school, Tudeen also served as a trip leader for Project Haiti, an experience he counts among his favorite medical school memories because of the ability to make a lasting impact on a community and the opportunity to grow closer with classmates.
He also fondly reflected on playing intramural basketball with his fellow medical students — “We have never been very good,” he admitted with a laugh — and interacting with faculty members, including Robert Hollander, M.D., an attending physician at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center, and Maureen Novak, M.D., associate dean of medical education.
Upon graduation, Tudeen will leave his hometown to pursue a residency in family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. While there, he said he looks forward to exploring the Pacific Northwest and immersing himself in a place he feels puts an emphasis on the importance of his chosen specialty (the university’s family medicine department is ranked fifth in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.)
“Family medicine is something that can really prepare us for serving abroad and being that jack of all trades — being able to best treat every person that comes our way,” Tudeen said of he and his wife, Amanda, who he met while they were both serving in the Peace Corps. (She will graduate from UF with a degree in occupational therapy in December.)
After residency, Tudeen will continue his dedication to service through a three-year commitment to the National Health Service Corps, which sends health care providers to underserved areas throughout the country. He said he also hopes to someday become involved in the public health policy sector.
“I feel like God’s calling me to serve other people,” Tudeen said. “I feel really blessed to have been given this life.”