Jan. 17, 2019 —Last March, third-year UF College of Medicine student Martin Laguerre traveled with several classmates to Eustis, a rural area of about 90 miles south of Gainesville, for a two-day Remote Area Medical, or RAM, clinic. The experience was transformative for Laguerre, who had yet to put the concepts he learned in books to the test with actual patients. In addition to providing physicals, blood-glucose level tests and other health maintenance services, he and his classmates gave an underserved population what they needed most: compassionate care.
“Eustis is a rural community, and it doesn’t have too many providers. A lot of patients hadn’t seen a doctor in years. We were able to address their lingering medical issues and point them in the right direction to get the care they need,” Laguerre says. “As a second-year student in the thick of pre-clinical education, to get this clinical experience, and to see the things I’ve spent hours studying actually help people, was wonderful.”
Laguerre, who received his master’s degree in public health from Florida State University in 2016, has a passion for treating underserved populations, and he’s getting the support he needs to pursue this dream from the William W. and Marie C. Wolff Scholarship Fund.
Marie Wolff established this fund as a tribute to her husband, William, and their shared interest in medicine. Students who receive the Wolff scholarship are expected to commit themselves to principles of kindness, charitable service, sincere interest and trust among doctor and patients.
“This scholarship represents the faith the school has in me. It’s given me peace of mind and allows me to focus more on what matters,” Laguerre says. “The donors’ confidence in me adds another layer of motivation for my studies.”
Laguerre’s path to medicine became clear when he was in high school and observed his father, who works as a pediatrician, communicate clearly and compassionately with his patients.
“It was awesome for me to see my dad explain complicated science concepts to patients and to then see them express understanding back. He dispelled lots of scary things for these kids, and it was very special to witness,” he says.
While working toward his master’s, Laguerre discovered the joy he receives from working with statistics. That feeling continues today in his current research endeavors in the UF departments of orthopedics and rehabilitation and obstetrics and gynecology, where he works as a statistician and lead manuscript writer.
“It’s telling a tale with numbers. I use numbers to explain different phenomena and the relationships things have,” he says. “Being able to do this work throughout different areas of medicine has been very fulfilling for me.”
Over the last two and a half years, Laguerre has collected many treasured memories, like performing a fight scene as the Minotaur in the White Coat Company production of “Hercules” and learning survival tactics in the Georgia mountains for the Medical Wilderness Adventure Race Challenge. One experience he will never forget, however, was serving as a mentorship counselor at the Health Care Summer Institute at the UF College of Medicine. This program provides high school students from rural and underserved communities in Florida the opportunity to shadow physicians, as well as SAT tutoring and guidance on college admission essays.
“For young people interested in health science careers, the camp gives them a viable pathway to go forward with their dreams,” Laguerre says. “It’s good for them to see people who look like them doing the things they want to do.”
When Laguerre graduates in 2020, he believes he will pursue a career in physical medicine and rehabilitation because of its opportunities to work with a growing and vulnerable population: those with disabilities.
“This field coordinates patient care in orthopedics, primary care and physical and occupational therapy. As a physiatrist, you try to improve the quality of life for people dealing with traumatic brain injuries, amputation or any other kind of trauma,” he says. “As someone who’s very concerned about public health, I’d like to treat an underserved community.”
Now that Laguerre has a few semesters of medical training under his belt, he can offer some advice to those who are just starting their medical training: Don’t compare yourself to those around you.
“It’s easy to look down on yourself when you see others studying for hours on end. Instead, focus on figuring out which way you learn best. It’s not about how much time you study, but the way you study that makes the material stick,” he says.