April 18, 2017 — It was current College of Medicine student Michael Jones’ first semester as a UF undergraduate: he sat in the academic advising office, nervously waiting to choose his course load. He discussed his background and interests with an advisor.
“You’re from Baker County?” the advisor said. “Let’s start you off with an easy semester.”
That experience inspired the first-generation college student to pursue a medical degree that would enable him to aid underserved, rural areas like his hometown of Macclenny, Florida, near Jacksonville.
“Coming from a small town like I did, there’s sort of a stigma. People may think you’re not good enough,” he says. “Seeing people have confidence in me were big factors in me getting here physically and cognitively.”
Jones, now in his first year at the College of Medicine, says receiving the Doctors Barbara and Dennis Williams Scholarship Fund makes reaching his goals more feasible.
“The generosity of Drs. Dennis and Barbara Williams and the UF College of Medicine eased my financial burden of attending medical school,” he says. “They allowed me to focus on the excitement of becoming a physician rather than worrying about money. I am profoundly grateful.”
Dennis and Barbara Williams, both members of the UF College of Medicine’s class of 1975, started this scholarship last year to alleviate the economic stress of schooling from a high-achieving and deserving medical student.
So far, Jones has found a welcoming atmosphere within the George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building. Between classes, he grabs a coffee or plays a round of ping-pong with his classmates.
“It feels like a big family,” he says. “All of our class meshes well together, no matter where they’re from or their background.”
Jones can recall with clarity the experience that drove him to choose a future in patient care. He was serving as a volunteer research assistant in 2013 and 2014, working with an experimental therapy for children with intractable epilepsy. He entered a room in the UF Clinical and Translational Research Building, expecting to collect a routine blood sample. What he encountered was a six-year-old girl with epilepsy and her parents, smiling and emotional as they told Jones their daughter had just spoken her first words, a milestone previously deemed impossible due to her near-constant seizures.
“With tears welling in my eyes and blood sample in hand, the return trip down the white hallway was different,” he says. “Everything that was previously bleak became invigorating. I felt an overwhelming happiness when that little girl spoke, and that emotional connection proved to me that patient contact was something I desired in my career.”
Jones says his experiences have proven that there is no one best path to medical school.
“Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it. There’s really no single route to get here,” he says. “Everything I was hearing was, you have to volunteer here for so many hours, or you have to shadow these doctors. I came to the conclusion that I would try to do the things I’m passionate about and the things that would eventually make me a good doctor.”