By Wendy Sarubbi | March 21, 2014 6:35 pm

As a student, Ayden Cooper helped create UCF’s new College of Medicine and on Friday, she learned she will help create the school’s first residency program, designed to bring more primary care physicians to Central Florida.

Cooper was one of the 55 medical students at UCF who matched into residency programs nationwide during Match Day 2014. She will be one of 16 in UCF’s charter class of internal medicine residents who begin training in July. The UCF residency is a partnership between the medical school, the Orlando VA Medical Center and Osceola Regional Medical Center.

“I feel incredibly honored to be a part of this,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to be in the College of Medicine’s second class and am now so excited to be part of its new internal medicine residency program. I love building things.”

Picture1The 16 new residents were chosen from 2,546 total applicants and after 187 interviews. “They are pioneers,” said Dr. Abdo Asmar, associate director of UCFs new residency program and himself a former chief resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital, one of the nation’s largest. “They want to establish a foundation of graduate medical education and build something together with us.”

“At the end of the day, a residency program is all about the patients,” said Asmar. “As we were selecting residents, we asked ourselves, ‘Who would you love to work with every day?’ and ‘Who would you want to care for your family?’”

Cooper had a nontraditional journey to medical school. She was born in the United States. Her father is American, her mother Vietnamese who met during the Vietnam War. She has lived in Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. She studied traditional Chinese medicine techniques like acupuncture and herbs in Vietnam and received a Master’s degree – she holds two – From Georgetown University in integrated medicine. She has worked for NASA, identifying whether healthy antioxidants in vegetables change in outer space. She has a black belt in karate. She said her diverse experiences and world travels have taught her versatility and adaptability “so I can cater to my patients’ needs and be culturally sensitive in how I can help them.”

Almatmed “Mo” Abdelsalam is another resident with UCF ties who will help build the new program. After graduating from medical school, he received his Master’s degree in molecular biology from UCF’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. He is currently working in the laboratory of Dr. Saleh Naser, who is researching better treatments for Crohn’s disease.

The nation’s top residency programs provide medical school graduates with a wide variety of patients to serve. UCF’s partnership program will offer residents the opportunity to care for a diverse patient population – including military veterans and residents of Osceola County, one of Florida’s fastest-growing and most diverse communities. Osceola has one of the state’s fastest growing Hispanic populations, and about 30 percent of the new residents speak Spanish as a second language.

The Orlando VA Medical Center is currently among the busiest VA facilities in the country, providing healthcare services to more than 100,000 veterans in Central Florida. The new Orlando VA Medical Center at Medical City will offer state-of-the-art inpatient acute care for veterans when it opens. It has been designated as an emerging center of innovation and will emphasize a patient-centered medical home approach through interdisciplinary teams of healthcare professionals. That approach includes mental health services as part of all primary care offerings.

“We’ve very excited about our group of new residents,” said Dr. Angel Colón-Molero, deputy chief of staff of the Orlando VA Medical Center and program director of the new partnership residency program. “They are good representatives of the future physicians we want to see in Central Florida for our patients.”

Osceola Regional is currently undergoing several expansions and offers specialty programs such as its Central Florida Cardiac and Vascular Institute and Orthopedic and Spine Center.  The center offers robotic surgery and continuity clinics that help patients acclimate to life and care when they leave the hospital.

“This is a great day and a significant academic milestone for Osceola Regional Medical Center and our consortium with the UCF College of Medicine and the Veterans Administration,” said Dr. Aida Sanchez-Jimenez, chief medical officer at Osceola Regional, who serves as site director of graduate medical education. “Together we have fulfilled a vision, a duty and the responsibility to educate those who will be able to care for the Central Florida community. We are thankful for the efforts and support of countless partners in this initiative and proud of our first class of 16 residents in internal medicine.”

UCF’s new program is accredited for up to 20 residents a year, for a total of 60, and will increase as the program grows.

“The UCF College of Medicine and our partners are delighted with our first residency match,” said Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and founding dean of the medical school. “We are looking forward to expanding the training and numbers of physicians who will practice in Central Florida.”

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