July 18, 2018 — Annalese Williams was only 15 years old when she first set foot on the UF College of Medicine campus. As a participant of the Health Care Summer Institute — a College of Medicine program that immerses underrepresented minority students in the world of health care professions — the high-schooler gained unforgettable experiences that would alter her future and career. Today, as a third-year student at the UF College of Medicine, Williams, 22, looks back on that time as the beginning of something special.
“I still remember moving into the dorm and meeting my peers who were also interested in the same things I was. By the end of the program, I got to shadow several doctors and health care professionals. I could tell the doctors were just fabulous and the patients were happy with the care they received,” Williams says. “I could tell right then, this was the path for me.”
The last two summers, Williams worked as a junior staff member and later as a camp coordinator for the Health Care Summer Institute. For Williams, this summer job felt like coming full circle, as she roomed with and counseled the young participants on their future goals, just like she was counseled eight years ago.
“It felt like I was giving back to the program that gave me my start,” she says. “I was able to relate to the students. I told them, ‘I was here where you are eight years ago. Whatever you want to do, you can do it.’ As corny as it sounds, I told them to reach for the stars. The Health Care Summer Institute is a great starting point to do just that.”
Williams looks forward to a bright future in medicine, thanks to help from the Hugh M. “Smiley” Hill, M.D., Scholarship Endowment Fund, established by former students to honor their beloved associate dean for student and alumni affairs.
“Being a medical student is hard enough with our schedule packed with classes and studying. Knowing I have the support of alumni, along with the support of my peers and faculty, is encouraging,” Williams says. “I know I’ll reach my goals.”
As a third-year medical student, Williams has just begun her medical rotations, which introduce her to various specialties and skill sets. So far, family medicine appeals to her because of the opportunities it affords for physicians to connect with patients on an individual basis. She says the biggest lesson her rotations have taught her is patience.
“I’ve realized that when I can take a step back and take my time, everything works out. The experience that has left the biggest impact on me was watching an attending physician take more than an hour to talk through a patient’s end-of-life care plan with their family. Sometimes we get lost in that 20-minute appointment time window. We need to take the time to be empathetic with our patients, to show them we care about their wellness and their family, more than just their physical expression of symptoms,” she says.
As part of the local and global health equity track at the UF College of Medicine, Williams attends a weekly, discussion-based class that explores topics related to health disparities at the local, national and global level, something she feels very passionate about.
“Health care today can be difficult in terms of insurance and the current political climate. I see it every day in clinic — a patient may not be able to afford a medication, and there may not be an affordable alternative to that medication,” she says. “I’m interested in what we can do as physicians to correct health disparities and to help patients from underprivileged backgrounds. As physicians, our voices are respected. If we can push for and be advocates for our patients, we can help them get the treatments they need and deserve.”
Williams feels excited for the future of health care and its evolution in terms of diversity and representation. She says she aims to be part of the next wave of positive change.
“It’s important to have patients see themselves represented in their health care providers, whether that means by gender, race or sexual orientation,” she says. “That representation could make the difference between someone sharing their symptoms and being compliant with their medications or not, because they feel comfortable and connect with their physician.”