‘Growing together as a community’
The UF College of Medicine welcomes 135 medical students to the class of 2026
July 29, 2022 — Some are military veterans, while others are jazz musicians. Some became interested in the medical field due to family illnesses or by getting firsthand experience working inside intensive care units.
Despite their varied backgrounds, all 135 members of the UF College of Medicine’s M.D. class of 2026 are united by a calling to care for others. The students began their medical school journeys this week with orientation, coming together in person for the first time. They also met some of the faculty members who will be by their side through the lessons and challenges of medical school.
“It is a pleasure to welcome you on your journey to becoming a Gator M.D.,” said Dean Colleen Koch, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., during an evening reception with the students. “While many of you are strangers in the room, you will form bonds that will last for the rest of your life.”
Koch also noted the many opportunities for students to share ideas and shape the UF medical school experience for themselves and their peers, citing the new artificial intelligence curriculum and an elective rotation in geriatric medicine at UF Health The Villages® Hospital, both born from student suggestions as part of the college’s strategic planning process.
During orientation, the class of 2026 learned more about the college community and each other through various discussions and activities centered on diversity and inclusion, wellness and maintaining balance.
Joseph Fantone, M.D., senior associate dean for educational affairs, said it was heartwarming and exciting to see everyone together for orientation.
“We hope you have a great time growing together, and all of us are here to support you,” he said. “I can’t convey enough about the energy I felt in this room with everyone interacting with each other and that’s what we want to really foster: a sense of community.”
Jay Lynch, M.D., assistant dean of admissions, shared statistics with the class during his presentation. More than 38% of the M.D. class of 2026 self-identify as disadvantaged or from a background that is underrepresented in medicine — the highest percentage in the college’s history.
“You have something to learn from every person in this room,” Lynch said. “Especially those who you don’t agree with. Just like it’s important to learn from others surrounding you today, it’s also important to listen to your patients and understand their experiences.”
On their first day of medical school, the members of the class of 2026 also received a special gift — their first stethoscopes. The symbolic pieces of medical equipment, which the students will use to listen to patients’ hearts and breathing when they begin their rotations, were purchased with donations from college alumni.
“This is one of the fundamental tools that will help you along the way during your time in medical school,” said Shireen Madani Sims, M.D. ’01, assistant dean for student affairs and president of the UF medical alumni board. “I still use the stethoscope I was given during medical school in my practice.”
M.D. Class of 2026 by the numbers
74 women and 61 men
51 students from undergraduate institutions outside of Florida
44 undergraduate institutions represented
8 students in the MD-PhD Training Program
7 students from the UF Medical Honors Program
17% first-generation college students
38% of students self-identified as disadvantaged or from a background underrepresented in medicine
Meet a few faces from the M.D. class of 2026
After seeing her mom fall into a diabetic coma twice and struggle against racial, gender and socioeconomic barriers while seeking health care in France, Maisha Akbar, M.S., was drawn to the field of medicine to effect change.
Studying science helped her feel a sense of control and better understand her mother’s illness, Akbar said, and after leaving Paris at 19, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from UF and a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from the University of South Florida before applying to the UF College of Medicine for her medical degree.
Now starting medical school with a daughter of her own, Akbar said she hopes to improve patients’ lives and inspire her child to study hard and follow her dreams by creating a more equitable and empathetic health care field.
“I spent a lot of my teenage years watching my mom go through diabetes,” Akbar said. “As an immigrant Black woman, she was often treated differently, and I got to see the role biases can play in health care. I realized how essential it was to have more humane care, a little more patience and cultural competency. When providers demonstrated this, it made such a huge difference in her outcomes that it inspired me to contribute myself. Helping to create a more equitable, more diverse and more just field — I feel like that’s where I can directly make a change.” — DI
After two deployments, a lot of time submerged underwater and 12 years away from his home state, first-year medical student Taylor Calibo returned to Florida to begin his career in medicine.
He always had an innate love for STEM and critical thinking, earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering and serving as a submarine lieutenant in the U.S. Navy before applying to medical school. He was trained as a nuclear engineer first, operating the submarine’s nuclear propulsion plant. Then he moved to the forward end of the boat as the officer in charge of diving and surfacing the ship.
Calibo’s health care calling didn’t come until a life-threatening illness impacted his lungs. Those who saved him inspired him to apply his passion for critical thinking to directly help those in need.
“On my first Western-Pacific deployment, I had volunteered for Navy dive school and had developed a respiratory illness while in high-risk training,” Calibo said. “A few weeks later, while at sea, my illness progressed to severe pneumonia followed by symptoms of shock and respiratory failure. If it wasn’t for the heroic actions of my crew, who made a concerted effort to save my life, I wouldn’t be here today. A two-week stay in an ICU in Okinawa and my subsequent recovery time allowed me to complete a second submarine deployment. Over the next couple of years, I began contemplating going to medical school. My respect for those who had cared for me, combined with a passion for serving others and a love of the science and medicine responsible for saving my life, helped guide me toward a career in medicine to use my experience to be with others in times of crisis.” — EB
First-year medical student Galyna Khramova and her family moved from Kyiv, Ukraine, to Daytona Beach, Florida, when she was 17 years old to escape political and economic instability following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Though she left behind many friends and her art school upon coming to the U.S., she stays connected to her culture through watercolor painting, where she uses a traditional Ukrainian cat hair brush made by her former teacher.
In addition to being a talented artist, whose work has been shown in the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts in Kyiv, Khramova is a 2019 graduate of UF’s chemistry program. She said her love for science stems from her father’s time as an emergency medical technician in Ukraine.
“The major inspiration for me was always all the stories that he would tell me,” she said. “For part of the time, he worked on the toxicology team, so he used to tell me about all the different medicines that they used and the antidotes, and I always found those stories fascinating. But then as an undergraduate student, I still had to come to the conclusion myself that I wanted to be in medicine. I moved back with my parents to Daytona Beach and started working in the hospital as an ICU tech. After the first couple of months, I was like, ‘Yes, medicine is where I belong. This is definitely where I want to be.’” — DI
Growing up in Melbourne near the frequent rocket launches taking place on Florida’s Space Coast, Marco Foreman always had an interest in science and knew he wanted to pursue a career in STEM.
A first-generation college student, he played football during his freshman year at Stetson University before sustaining an injury and transferring to the University of Central Florida to focus on academics. He said the skills he developed and honed as an athlete — leadership, communication and teamwork — will be integral as he begins medical school at UF. He said looks forward to hands-on learning during anatomy labs and becoming part of The Gator Nation and College of Medicine community as he works to become an orthopaedic surgeon.
The power of humanistic, patient-centered health care became personal for Foreman when, at age 12, he witnessed his younger brother experience epileptic seizures for the first time.
“It was really scary, and that experience opened up my eyes to the health care industry and how special all health care workers are, but specifically doctors,” he said. “Whenever no one knows what’s going on, they usually have the answer. The way they articulate and provide not just health care but also emotional support and financial help is great to see, and that’s what I have aspired to be ever since that day.” — EM
Tran Ngo, a first-year student in the college’s MD-PhD Training Program, became interested in medicine due to her own medical anomaly, a congenital dermoid in her right eye. As a child, her eye initiated many questions from her peers, which became a source of curiosity and motivated her to pursue medicine.
Ngo, who is originally from Vietnam but moved with her family to Tampa at age 11, studied biomedical engineering during her undergraduate days at UF. The first-generation college graduate has long had her heart set on becoming a physician, but she was also drawn to the idea of designing the biomedical technology used in clinics. During her undergraduate studies, she worked on biomaterial research, which inspired her to pursue postbaccalaureate research training at the National Institutes of Health.
She spent the past two years with the NIH, working on understanding the immune response to biomaterial implants. Ngo also contributed to establishing and analyzing the first representative national serosurvey of SARS-CoV-2 that identified 17 million undiagnosed cases of COVID-19 as of summer 2020 in the U.S. Upon returning to UF to begin her journey to becoming a physician-scientist, Ngo is looking forward to contributing to clinical research and helping others.
“This is the place where I learned, discovered and nurtured my goal to be a physician-scientist,” she said. “I’m excited to bring back what I learned at the NIH and continue to explore and expand my passions here at UF. Over the next eight years, I want to combine all my interests to develop a research project involving medicine, science and engineering. I also want to become involved in the community, understand health disparities better and find ways to make biomedical technology more accessible to patients in need.” — EM
Benjamin Cipion, M.S. ’18, is a husband, father and respiratory therapist who cared for ICU patients in Tampa during the peak of the pandemic. He now joins UF’s M.D. class of 2026 to continue fostering his love for medicine.
With a master’s degree in microbiology and cell science and a concentration in medical microbiology and biochemistry from UF, Cipion leveraged his background to help train nurses, therapists and medical assistants on proper isolation techniques, advocated for the health care profession and saw behind-the-scenes hospital protocols. Now, he is excited to learn how to advocate in a more expansive role at the UF College of Medicine.
For Cipion, medicine has always been an inexplicable attraction. He compared it to having a favorite color — there is not an explicit reason behind the attraction, it’s just there.
“I think my journey took some time to mature and materialize,” he said. “Sometimes others see the potential in you before you see it in yourself. I think others had to flesh out that idea for me because it was always there, but it felt so out of reach sometimes. My children are that extra oomph that sometimes you need, and they inspire me. You remember the innocence it feels like the world is losing sometimes. The idea of being hopeful, believing in things — when you see that in your children, you get reinvigorated, you get reinspired, and it makes you want to be a better person every day for them because they look up to you.” — EB