November 21, 2019—Tayna Latortue is fascinated by the world around us and within us. For this 20-year-old in her first year of medical school, even simple tasks like eating a hot dog produce complex physiological phenomena that light up her eyes to contemplate.
Latortue is pursuing her love of science and new interests in dermatology, nephrology and gastrointestinal medicine at the UF College of Medicine, with help from the Willie J. Sanders Scholarship. Established in 2012, the fund supports students committed to making a contribution to a pluralistic community and a diverse student body. In 1968, Bill “Willie” Sanders became the first black faculty member at the UF College of Medicine. He began his career at the UF College of Medicine in 1957 as an anatomy laboratory technician and retired in 1989 as a tenured associate professor. As the director of the college’s Office of Minority Relations for Health Sciences — now the Office for Diversity and Health Equity — Sanders recruited minority students and served as a mentor to many.
Latortue calls it an inspiration to be recognized as part of Sanders’ legacy.
“He walked so others could run. He was the first,” she says. “He made it so it’s commonplace for black people to be part of the UF College of Medicine.”
Latortue attended Florida Atlantic University High School, a dual program that allowed her to attend Florida Atlantic University in her last three years of high school. She received her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 2018. Studying biology and chemistry sparked Latortue’s interest in a career in medicine; shadowing several doctors and learning about their journeys convinced her of her own path.
“After I interviewed, I wanted to be at the UF College of Medicine,” Latortue says. “It’s a community where everyone works together to help each other. We’re not competing against each other.”
Though Latortue only began her medical training this fall, she’s already developed an interest in specialties like dermatology, nephrology and gastrointestinal medicine. She feels inspired by the science behind disease processes.
“In a lot of diseases, the skin is an indicator. It’s the first thing you see when you’re diagnosing someone. “That really interests me,” she says. “I’m fascinated by the physiology of eating, too — the complexity of the process down to each enzyme.”
Latortue, who will receive her white coat this month at the college’s annual White Coat Ceremony, recently joined a mentoring group through the UF College of Medicine, which pairs her with undergraduate students interested in medical training. For Latortue, mentoring is a way of paying it forward.
“I really like helping others by guiding them through studying and test taking. If I can teach them skills they’ll continue to use and then teach to others, that knowledge keeps pushing forward like a wave,” she says.