September 23, 2019—On the long, often tiresome journey that is medical education, roadblocks can come from both internal and external forces. For Tawanna Charlton, the support she found at the UF College of Medicine convinced her to let go of the doubtful voices in her head and keep moving along her intended path.
“It was surreal to be accepted to the UF College of Medicine. It was something that I wanted for so long,” Charlton says. “Before I even stepped foot on campus, though, I already had doubts. It took me time to realize that the faculty and the other students here are a support system. When I returned for my second semester, I felt more powerful and capable.”
Charlton, now a second-year medical student, has a new outlook on medical school and her place within that environment, and she encourages all who may be experiencing doubts to both look within themselves and reach out to those nearby.
“My advice for students who are starting medical school is to remember you were chosen for a reason. It wasn’t a mistake,” she says. “Imposter syndrome is real. Don’t be afraid to speak out or confide in someone. If someone else thinks you can do it, why would you think you can’t?”
She says being awarded the Hugh and Mabel Wilford Scholarship lent a further sense of assurance that she’s in the right place.
“Receiving my scholarship gives me a sense of belonging. Knowing I have a family here at the UF College of Medicine that believes in my success is the most gratifying feeling,” she says. “It not only encourages me to continue my pursuit of this career but also to pay it forward once I’m in the position to do so.”
Charlton sits on the class of 2022 executive board as the diversity liaison, a position her class founded. In this capacity, she works with students and faculty to advocate for equal representation and cultural competency in medical education.
“My role gives students in the minority populations a voice. Typically, their concerns may not have been received in the same number as the majority’s concerns, so they may not have been addressed with the same frequency,” Charlton says.
Her interest in advocacy for minority and disadvantaged populations stems in part from her own experiences obtaining an education. A first-generation college student from Tallahassee, Charlton attended a high school that lacked mentoring opportunities and college preparation.
“I had to use Google to find the major I wanted,” she recalls. “Once I was in college, I realized there was a lot I wasn’t exposed to that my classmates were familiar with. I learned what a disadvantage I was at. At first, it was terrifying. Eventually, I learned to use it as fuel to continue pursuing my dreams.”
Last year, Charlton served as the co-president of the UF College of Medicine cardiology interest group. Though she’s keeping her options open as she begins her clinical rotations next year, cardiology spoke to her because of the patient populations it serves.
“Knowing that the vast majority of cardiology patients come from disadvantaged backgrounds with less access to care, it was almost natural for me to pursue this field,” she says.
Regardless of the specialty that Charlton pursues after graduation, she has an idea of the impact she wants to leave on her patients.
“I want my patients to feel heard, that what they tell me is important. I want them to feel they can trust me to provide them with the proper care and information they need,” she says.
Just as she aims to listen closely to the complaints of her future patients, Charlton makes efforts as a medical student to listen to her mind and body, especially when the stress of difficult exams and her busy schedule reach a fever pitch.
“When school gets overwhelming, I’ve learned to prioritize self-care. I do things to keep me grounded. I love to meditate, take a step back and center myself when my mind is racing,” she says. “I do positive affirmations. I tell myself, you can do this. You were chosen to do this. I try not to become my worst enemy. I tell myself, you don’t have to be perfect. Just do it.”