Jan. 25, 2018 — When UF College of Medicine student Ilya Sakharuk was a little boy, nothing frightened him more than the threat of an impending dentist appointment.
In his native country Belarus, Sakharuk recalls, his parents couldn’t afford a dental anesthetic, so his father held him still while the dentist yanked out his tooth. Bordered by Poland on the west and Russia on the east, Belarus declared independence in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Sakharuk says it wasn’t uncommon for patients to tip doctors under the table, further reducing the availability of affordable health care for the average citizen.
When his family moved to the United States in 1998, Sakharuk was struck by the availability and standards of modern American health care.
“When I came to the dentist in the U.S., I was scared at first before I realized how different it is here,” he says. “Even as a child, I noticed how much more medicine is advanced here in comparison with Belarus.”
Today, Sakharuk is in his third year at the UF College of Medicine with support from the Charlotte M. Liberty scholarship and academic support fund. He’s keeping his options open as he rotates through the day-to-day routines of different specialties, but he thinks he may pursue surgery or anesthesiology.
“During the first and second years of medical school, the coursework is more objective. But then in our third and fourth years, we interact with patients. That gives what we learned new meaning. It’s amazing to see how different people handle life and what’s thrown at them,” he says. “I want to enter into a field that’s more procedural. I like working with my hands.”
When he’s not in class, he spends time in the lab with colorectal surgeon and assistant professor Atif Iqbal, M.D. The pair studies hospital readmission rates following an ileostomy, or the surgical opening of the abdominal wall.
“It’s interesting to see the way physicians and researchers work together to change the future and leave an impact,” Sakharuk says.
Throughout his medical school years, he’s served as a College of Medicine senator in UF student government and a volunteer with Streetlight, a peer support program for young people faced with chronic and life-limiting illnesses. He’s also a member of the UF College of Medicine admissions welcoming committee, helping lead tours for hopeful applicants. Sakharuk says he’s proud to represent an institution with a welcoming and diverse atmosphere.
“There are students at the UF College of Medicine from all walks of life from all over the world. I find it very interesting learning about others’ experiences. We can all contribute toward one another’s education,” he says. “That’s what sets UF apart from other schools.”