‘A labor of love and sacrifice’
The UF College of Medicine Class of 2020 becomes physicians and joins the front lines
May 18, 2020 – She hasn’t even begun her emergency medicine residency at UF Health – Jacksonville yet, but UF College of Medicine graduate Colleen Cowdery, M.D. ’20, has gained unforgettable, on-the-ground experience that makes her eager to join the front lines of health care providers in the fight against COVID-19.
Cowdery volunteered her time and expertise with COVID-19 testing efforts across the state — at The Villages® and in Jacksonville, Cedar Key and Gainesville. Her experiences at these testing sites strengthened her passion for disaster management and logistical organization, a drive that she will bring to her residency and future career.
“The first day of any testing site always brings some level of barely contained chaos. There are unique challenges you can’t predict until you’re on the ground. I love that,” said Cowdery. “I love arriving the day of and thinking, what’s going on and how can we address it? There are tons of puzzles to figure out.”
Cowdery is one of the 129 members of the class of 2020 who just recently received two very important letters after their names: M.D. On May 16, Cowdery and her classmates watched the 61st annual UF College of Medicine commencement ceremony, held in the George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building and livestreamed to viewers’ homes across the nation.
UF College of Medicine Interim Dean Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., opened the ceremony with his reflections on the “extraordinary times” facing the world and his admiration for the sacrifices that “health care heroes” make to ensure the health and safety of their patients.
“Today, we’re about to add to those lines of heroes,” Tyndall told the graduates. “We celebrate another precious resource to society — a group of men and women who have worked so hard for many years, who will move forward with the courage and skill to bring medicine to society. To the class of 2020, I thank you for entering medicine during one of the most unprecedented times in recent history. We honor your commitment and courage. We know you will continue the tradition of medicine, a labor of love and sacrifice to help greater mankind. Though you will work tirelessly and passionately and often in anonymity, know you are as precious and valuable to the foundation of society than anything else I could imagine.”
Jared Freitas, M.D. ’20, recipient of the Student Hippocratic Award and a future internal medicine resident at Vanderbilt University, spoke to his classmates about the lessons he’s learned throughout his medical training and invited them to remember that the family they have built as a class remains even after they geographically scatter to their respective residencies as far as New York and California.
“You all have done such great things. Looking ahead, you will do so much more. The greatest work you do won’t be done in the clinic, the operating room or on the wards. It will be the work you do in the hearts and minds of the patients you treat and the people you work with,” said Freitas. “That will be your greatest accomplishment.”
As Cowdery watched the ceremony from her home in Gainesville with a small group of friends, she reflected on the unexpected opportunities she’s had over the last three months to put what she’s learned to use. As she moves forward into a world mired by a public health crisis, there’s one word that describes how she feels: ready.
“This was a completely new and unique experience for the world and for medical students. You can’t find this experience in a lecture hall or textbook,” said Cowdery. “My experiences in the field have given me the opportunity to be in a leadership position. I was running areas of the testing sites, directing groups of medical, nursing, pharmacy and public health students and even a couple attending physicians. That was an experience you don’t get often in medical school.”
The class of 2020 recognizes the far-reaching impact of COVID-19, including added financial burdens for medical students and their loved ones. To combat this, the class has established two funds. The UF College of Medicine Class of 2020 Scholarship Fund is a need-based scholarship for a future UF medical student, and the Medical Student Support Fund offers interest-free loan assistance to support medical students encountering unexpected expenses.
“COVID-19 highlighted some of the unexpected expenses medical students encounter — like attending funerals or spouses and family members losing jobs. This is on top of the other expenditures medical students face, including paying for mental and physical health needs that arise while in medical school,” said UF College of Medicine Class of 2020 President Wayne Dell, M.D. ’20. “After our Match Day and graduation events were cancelled, our class saw an opportunity to create something long lasting that could help future students. We decided to establish two accounts using our class funds with support from the College of Medicine.”
The following members of the class of 2020 contributed to the pair of funds:
Nathan Burriss, Amanda LaPorte, Colleen Cowdery, Jonathan Fraebel, Aditi Patel, Joanne Alfred, Stacey Kirkpatrick, Jeffrey Chapa, Laura Cline, Wayne Dell, Sarah Baker, Andrew Davis, Alexis Santos, Timothy Stoddard, Savannah Liddell, Peter Jiang, Tiffany Miller, Lucia Gonzalez-Llanos, Stephen Tapia-Ruano, Leslie Goldberg, Kristen Woodward, Nadine Hamed, Laura Gordon, Bhavana Pottabatula, Olushola Ogunlari, Elizabeth Jean-Marie, Macie Wilkins and Anthony Barrios