Celebrating Black History Month
College of Medicine shares stories of faculty, alumni and students
Feb, 22, 2023 — Each February, millions of people around the U.S. celebrate Black History Month, a tribute to past and current generations of African Americans and their contributions to the nation and the world.
At the University of Florida College of Medicine, Black scientists and health care providers have made a lasting impact. Learn about the stories of three African American students, alumni and faculty from our PA, Ph.D. and M.D. concentrations below.
Zach Bautista, MPAS ’19, PA-C
Zach Bautista, MPAS ’19, PA-C, an emergency medicine physician assistant at UF Health and alumnus of UF’s School of Physician Assistant Studies, finds joy in educating others. From helping patients understand what is happening to their bodies in the emergency room to training new hires and rotating students in the department, teaching is a crucial and rewarding part of his work.
Growing up in the Florida Panhandle, Bautista was exposed to medicine and health care by his parents from a young age. His father worked as a pharmacist, and his mother, a nurse practitioner, ran her own hormone replacement therapy practice. Seeing the way his mom built strong, unique relationships with her patients was admirable, he said, and he looked to her as a role model and inspiration for his own work. But he didn’t know the PA field existed until a classmate in his undergraduate psychology course told him about it.
“The PA profession was a natural fit for me,” he said. “Once I got to my interview at UF, it was pretty much a no-brainer … The atmosphere, the program, they really felt like a family.”
Being mentored by another Black male PA student in the year ahead of him at UF really made a difference, Bautista said. He was able to receive good advice and benefit from seeing someone who looked like him succeed. Now, almost four years after graduation, he hopes to one day return to academic medicine and put his experiences and love for teaching to use as a PA professor.
“I feel fortunate that I’ve had people in my department say I’m a good teacher,” he said. “It’s one of the things I enjoy the most and am most proud of. I try to make sure that students and patients feel listened to, educated, heard and understood. We can all reflect on any good teachers we’ve had throughout our lives and how big of a difference they can make. I think it would be nice to give back that way.”
Xzaviar Solone, M.S.
Xzaviar Solone, M.S., a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Program for Biomedical Sciences, is excited to pursue a life in academia to inspire the next generation of biomedical scientists and researchers. Having grown up in the small town of Manning, South Carolina, Solone first came to Florida for his undergraduate studies in general biology at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. He followed the pre-med track during undergrad and thought he would pursue a clinical career. However, two summer internships conducting cancer research at the University of Florida opened his world up to biomedical research as a professional path.
After completing a master’s degree in integrative biology at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, Solone returned to Gainesville for his doctoral studies, working in the lab of Lizi Wu, Ph.D., a professor in the department of molecular genetics and microbiology. He studies studies ways to re-sensitize aggressive lung cancer to current treatments and mentors undergraduate students. Solone, who plans to pursue a career in academic research, said he encourages his mentees to explore the many options available to them in scientific research.
“I definitely remind them to explore their options, because there are so many opportunities available in different fields,” he said. “Beyond benchwork, you can go into consulting, policy or something else. It can take a while to find your niche and what you like to do, but once you find what you’re passionate about, go after it.”
Michelle Jacobs, M.D.
Michelle Jacobs, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and assistant dean for diversity and health equity, finds joy in helping students thrive at UF. In her role as a staff psychiatrist for UF’s Student Health Psychiatry Clinic located at the Counseling and Wellness Center, she spends her days treating learners of all ages and backgrounds as they navigate bumps in their lives and education, like depression, anxiety and undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Growing up in Ocala, Jacobs was inspired to pursue medicine and psychiatry by a few different influences. Her mother, a graduate of the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, worked as a nurse with Nathaniel H. Jones, M.D., one of two Black physician Jacobs knew as a young girl in her hometown. During her time in elementary school, Jacobs’ father got in a terrible car accident, and she spent endless hours in the hospital while he recovered. Later, her interest in mental health care was piqued by the “Bob Newhart Show,” a 1970s sitcom following the interactions of a psychologist and his friends, family and patients.
After becoming the first in her family to attend medical school and graduating from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, Jacobs came to UF for her psychiatry residency and child and adolescent fellowship. Eventually settling in Gainesville to be close to her family in Ocala, she has worked at the university as a faculty member since 2000.
“To be able to diagnose, properly treat and watch others flourish is the best part of my job,” Jacobs said. “Helping to positively contribute to the growth of college, graduate and medical students is something I want to continue in my career.”