Welcoming the next generation of culturally competent physicians
135 medical students join the UF College of Medicine family
Aug. 4, 2020 — Long before they’re taught proper procedural techniques or shown how to diagnose various illnesses, new students at the UF College of Medicine are given perhaps the most important lesson of all: how to compassionately care for each and every patient, regardless of identity or status. Instilling a commitment to culturally competent care was a top priority among faculty and student leaders as the 135 members of the class of 2024 gathered for orientation last week.
UF College of Medicine Interim Dean Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., welcomed the students and commended them on choosing a career path that demands self-sacrifice and the tireless support of those in need.
“Medicine is about giving to others when others need our support,” Tyndall said. “I want to say congratulations to all of you. You’ve chosen an amazing career path, and we’re going to walk with you, supporting you all the way. You’re going to learn how to not just take care of people’s illnesses but to take care of people of all walks of life and understand their perspectives. My hope is that you all will become better human beings.”
Jay Lynch, M.D., the assistant dean of admissions and a professor of medicine, shared with students the Office of Admissions’ goals to recruit and help train the “next generation of caring, compassionate and culturally competent medical professionals.” He used examples from world history, the College of Medicine’s past and his own life to illustrate just how powerful a community — like the one they’re now part of at the College of Medicine — can be.
Though orientation looked different this year due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, with safety precautions including a mandatory facemask rule, spaced out seating and students divided into small groups throughout the Harrell Medical Education Building, the first-year medical students still received words of wisdom and a surprise gift from the Gator M.D. community. On Thursday afternoon, South Florida physician Mark Michels, M.D. ’85, president of the Medical Alumni Board of Directors, delivered remarks virtually to present students with their first stethoscopes, which were presented to each member of the class of 2024 as a gift from alumni.
“As the patient literally bares their chest, they share their deepest fears and concerns to the physician, who’s compelled to lean in and listen to so much more than the internal organs,” Michels said.
During a four-hour session Friday afternoon, students heard talks and participated in activities focused on diversity, inclusion and compassionate care. During a presentation about implicit bias and microaggressions, Donna Parker, M.D. ’90, associate dean for diversity and health equity, explained to students that the college aims to be a safe space where students are encouraged to report any mistreatment they may experience and where they feel welcomed and valued.
“Everyone in this class has earned their right to be here,” Parker said. “I don’t want anyone to feel less than. Having that sense of belonging is very important to success.”
Class of 2023 diversity liaisons Esther Duqueney and Samari Blair led the new students in interactive activities, including taking an implicit bias test to assess what racial stereotypes students may be subconsciously harboring or what microaggressions they may have faced or perpetrated themselves.
“These conversations are uncomfortable to have, but they need to happen,” Duqueney said. “We want students to leave reflecting on ways that they can work toward improving diversity and inclusivity not only at the UF College of Medicine but throughout their medical training.”
“Literature shows that having compassionate, culturally sensitive physicians caring for patients leads to better patient satisfaction and outcomes,” Blair said. “Here at UF, we are dedicated to providing the best patient care possible for the community. That means having these difficult conversations about race relations, health disparities and social determinants of health, and dedicating ourselves to making sure our curriculum builds us into the best physicians we can be.”
Class of 2024 by the numbers
- 75 women and 60 men
- 41 self-identified as underrepresented in medicine
- 15 first-generation college students
- 54 students from undergraduate institutions outside of Florida
Meet a few faces of the class of 2024
Carissa Longo has just begun her training at the UF College of Medicine, but she’s already certain of the type of physician — and health policymaker — she wants to be. Shadowing a family medicine physician at Oregon Health and Science University during her time volunteering with AmeriCorps showed Longo the impact empathy and compassion can have on patients. From her time serving as a youth support specialist, Longo learned that self-empowerment is key to creating positive health outcomes.
Over the next four years, she looks forward to learning how to best advocate for patients on a national scale through joining the health outcomes and policy track within the Discovery Pathways Program, and she aims to create positive health outcomes for medically underserved members of Gainesville’s community while volunteering at the Equal Access Clinic and Mobile Outreach Clinic.
“As a youth support specialist, my biggest job was to advocate ‘with’ and not ‘for,’” she said. “It’s about making sure that, for the individuals you’re helping — especially those who have been victims of oppressive systems — you’re a guiding resource, not coming in to save the day. As a physician, I want to guide my patients toward self-empowerment, so they can be in control of their own health. I want to raise policy discussion around more than just equal access to care. When marginalized communities do have access to care, what is the quality of care? Are physicians culturally conscious? Is there implicit bias?”
Dancing ballet nearly every day since she was 3 years old taught Dominique Szymkiewicz the value of dedication and patience. Her pursuit of biomedical engineering and neuroscience at Vanderbilt University led her to make research discoveries that advance our understanding of ischemic strokes. Yet the greatest lesson she ever learned may have been the result of a curious childhood conversation with her mother. Szymkiewicz’s parents immigrated from Poland to the U.S., and their experiences continue to inform the compassionate, culturally competent care she aims to provide to her future patients.
“I remember being a small child and asking my mom, ‘Why are you so nice to strangers?’” Szymkiewicz said. “My mom responded, ‘When I first got here, I didn’t have any friends or family. I couldn’t speak the language. I had to rely on strangers’ help.’ She explained that, in a similar way, doctors are initially strangers who help others, too. I realized I wanted to help people that way. Even though I was born here, I have an outsider’s perspective on America from my parents. As patient care providers, it’s as important as ever to be conscious of your own bias, as well as the bias contained within the information you’re providing to patients. We take an oath to treat everyone with respect and to be open and inclusive to every patient we see.”
Growing up in Ecuador, Pablo Santana witnessed firsthand how a lack of access to health care and resources can impact the health outcomes of a community. After his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 16, Santana found that a similar lack of access to care permeated life for lower-income communities in both nations. Recognizing this global issue motivated him to pursue a career in medicine, a field in which he brings a sense of cultural competency, compassion and an acute awareness of what medically underserved communities need most from their care providers.
“Both in Ecuador and the U.S., I come from communities where most people hold low-paying jobs,” he said. “I’ve seen people save up money to go to the doctor and then they’re prescribed a medication they can’t afford, so they’re back in the same place. Our community needs role models, people from their neighborhood who they can see accomplishing big things. I never knew a doctor growing up. I want to address the problems of low-income communities, and I want to gather the skills to become a physician who understands the social and economic dynamics that affect health care and access to health care.”