Jan. 28, 2021 – Long before she donned her white coat from the UF College of Medicine, Daniela Ramirez gained valuable experiences that led her down her chosen path of becoming a compassionate and culturally competent physician. As an undergraduate student at UF, Ramirez volunteered at the Eastside Clinic, part of UF’s medical student-run Equal Access Clinic Network that provides health care for Alachua County’s medically underserved. Though she didn’t yet have the technical skills necessary to help patients with their particular ailments, she learned that she already possessed one of the most important qualities a physician should have: the ability to listen.
“Through getting to know a lot of these patients, I learned many of them recently moved from their home countries and were in a new town completely separated from their families. A lot of the time, they just needed someone to talk to and help them feel less lonely,” Ramirez recalls. “As a medical student, I can now help more with their medical complaints, but I’ll never forget that although patients may come with a variety of medical ailments, their overarching need is to have someone willing to take the time to listen to them. It’s a lesson I want to take with me to my future practice.”
Ramirez looks forward to a career in a field like mental health, in which she can provide outreach to lower socioeconomic communities — much like where she grew up in South Florida. A recipient of the Hugh and Mabel Wilford Scholarship, Ramirez says donors like the Wilfords have made her education possible since her undergraduate years, as her family was unable to contribute financially to her schooling.
“I’ve always been immensely grateful to the donors who have eased this weight and allowed me to pursue my dreams, regardless of where they took me,” says Ramirez. “The financial impact is helpful — no matter how large or small — but the impact of having someone believe in me is something that I won’t forget.”
Ramirez is part of the Medical Honors Program, an accelerated, seven-year combined program that accepts about a dozen students each year. Peter Sayeski, Ph.D., director of the Medical Honors Program and professor in the UF Department of Physiology and Functional Genomics, taught Ramirez from her undergraduate years through her first two years of medical school. He says if all future physicians were like Ramirez, the world would be a brighter place.
“Daniela is caring, thoughtful, considerate, compassionate, incredibly smart and accomplished yet very humble and approachable,” says Sayeski. “That humility makes her very easy to converse with, and at the end of the day, that’s a characteristic that physicians really need. I’d absolutely want Daniela to be my doctor.”
Ramirez’s compassionate approach extends beyond the patients she treats. As a mentor with the UF Summer Health Professions Education Program and the UF Minority Health Professional Mentorship Program, Ramirez takes students of identities and backgrounds underrepresented in medicine under her wing to ensure they have the resources they need to pursue careers in health care and science. No stranger to discouragement herself, Ramirez recalls a high school teacher who advised her that medicine would be too difficult to pursue. Today, she is a third-year medical student, thanks to her own determination and drive.
“Mentoring is a way for me to serve as a guide and hopefully a role model for students who might feel as lost as I once did,” says Ramirez. “Representation matters, and the only way we can achieve that is by ensuring the next generation is exposed to what they, too, can achieve.”
Though she still has one and a half years of medical school remaining, Ramirez already knows what she can achieve: relationships with patients that will last a lifetime and beyond.
“I want my patients to feel like they can trust me and consider me a safe space to talk about anything going on in their lives,” says Ramirez. “I hope to form connections with them that last years, and I hope they feel like they can bring their own kids to me one day.”