- College of Medicine Faculty News Students
The College of Medicine celebrated our nation’s military with a week of events that student organizers hoped would give physicians-in-training “a new appreciation for the unique opportunity we have to serve our veterans.”
Central Florida has one of the largest veteran populations in the country with more than 100,000 vets living in the Orlando metropolitan area. And UCF’s medical school campus sits next door to the new Orlando VA Medical Center, one of the largest veterans hospitals in the country. For the week that included Veterans Day, the Military Interest student group delivered to the hospital a giant card signed by faculty, staff and students that thanked vets for their courage, dedication and service to country. The group also put 50 American flags on the Tavistock Green to honor the number of veterans at the College of Medicine. And on November 12, it held a panel discussion on veterans’ health needs featuring physicians and others who care for those who served.
Because of the medical school’s partnerships with the VA, every UCF M.D. student spends part of their training caring for veterans. “You don’t have to go far to interact with veterans here at the College of Medicine,” said second-year student Katie Mills, who attended the Air Force Academy, earned the rank of captain and ran military hospitals before coming to medical school. She helped lead the Veterans Day events. “No matter what specialty you go into, you will probably be caring for veterans.” Mills delivered the thank you card with two other med school student veterans — the husband-wife team of Arron and Melissa Smith, who both served as Army combat nurses in Iraq, where they met.
The veterans’ health panel featured VA clinicians and concierge workers who explained some of the unique needs of the veteran population. Orlando V.A. Chief of Medicine, Dr. Lisa Zacher told students it’s important to approach veterans as people first, not just a disease or diagnosis. “Working with veterans, I like to ask them where they served first,” she said. “You can’t solve every problem, but you can listen. Those things can make a difference for your patients that day.”
Dr. Juan Cendan, the College of Medicine’s medical education chair, began caring for veterans more than 20 years ago as a medical student and continues to work as a surgeon at the VA today. “Being at the veteran’s hospital is really a privilege as a caregiver, and it presents a tremendous opportunity for students,” he said, noting that caring for veterans helps students develop their communications skills with a diverse group of patients who often have complex backgrounds and health challenges.
Another unique opportunity in caring for veterans is being able to learn the unique history that comes with each patient’s military service. Army veteran and Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, Dr. Richard Peppler, said he recently received a letter from a student training at Bay Pines VA in St. Petersburg, who was researching American history to see the ties between the patient’s war experience and medical challenges. “I find that to be a very rewarding part of the experience,” he said.