By Wendy Sarubbi | May 15, 2015 4:19 pm

The College of Medicine graduated 78 new Physician Knights Friday, the third class of UCF-trained doctors in the college’s young history.

The new physicians are artists, scientists, athletes and soldiers. One trained to be a professional figure skater before entering medical school; two are brothers a year apart who waited a year so they could go through med school together. Another is a former Shakespearean actor; a fourth holds a Ph.D. in environmental toxins.

This year’s class also includes eight military officers – the most of any class to date — who were promoted in rank as part of commencement activities. Most will do their residency training at military hospitals caring for our nation’s heroes.

UCF President John C. Hitt told graduates they had taken a chance on a young medical school that did not have accreditation when they arrived. “Graduates, your instincts served you well in choosing this medical school,” he said to applause. President Hitt added that the class also played a role in Orlando’s economic development, noting, “You are forever linked to a dynamic Medical City that inspires hope and optimism throughout America for incomparable clinical care and new medical solutions.”

More than any other class, this year’s graduates exemplified service — opening a student-run free clinic and leading medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic in addition to their military service. That service was a theme for many of the commencement speakers.

Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and founding dean of the medical school, reminded graduates of the first class they had shared: White Coat 2011, the first day of medical school. There, as she does for each new class, Dr. German asked students to describe The Good Doctor they would want caring for the person they love most. Those traits become a contract between students, their faculty and their college.

“You gave us the qualities of The Good Doctor on that first day,” Dr. German said, “Have you become The Good Doctor? Does this question make you feel uncomfortable? I think so. I think the reason you feel anxious is because you now know that becoming The Good Doctor is a lifelong endeavor…because to be The Good Doctor you must be a good person.”

Dr. Abdo Asmar, an award-winning teacher and clinician who leads the College of Medicine’s residency program, was chosen by students to be their faculty speaker. He told students they were about to have M.D. added to their names, a designation of honor and trust given to a very few. “As physicians, we need to honor that trust by being servants to those in our care,” he said. “With all of the medical advances and technology we have today, remember that patients do not put their trust in machines or devices. They put their trust in you.”

Megan Vu is now one of those trusted servants. She came back to Orlando late Thursday from officer training in Newport, R.I. During her five-week Naval training, she is drill officer of her squad. She’s been issuing marching commands for the past week, and her voice was hoarse as she and seven other military physicians took the stage in full dress uniform to take their oaths after receiving their diplomas. The crowd of almost 1,000 gave them a standing ovation.

The military students participate in the military’s Health Professions Scholarships program, which provides scholarships to M.D. candidates who agree to serve their country. The students took their oath from Dr. Richard Peppler, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, who retired as a colonel after 35 years in the Army reserve. Faculty members on the platform party then pinned the officers’ new rank to their uniforms and the military ceremony ended with undergraduate College of Medicine officers saluting their newly promoted colleagues.

Service in the Navy has special meaning for Vu. Members of her family escaped South Vietnam in 1975 on a U.S. Navy ship during the fall of Saigon. She says she wouldn’t be alive today without the actions of those soldiers so she enlisted in the Navy as a way to give back. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this day,” Vu said after commencement. “Members of the military continue to be my heroes with their dedication, commitment, their courage. I now have the best job in the world – caring for heroes.”

Many students called becoming an M.D. the fulfillment of a life’s dream. As children in their native Egypt, brothers Galal and Mohammed Elsayed dressed up in white coats and play stethoscopes and cared for imaginary patients. Galal is a year older, so the brothers waited a year so they could go through UCF’s College of Medicine together. Now Galal is off to University of Alabama-Birmingham to do his neurosurgery residency. Mohammed will train to be a radiologist at Harvard.

Teresa Martin-Carreras was born in Cuba and is the first in her family’s history to go to college. Her mother and grandmother attended Friday’s commencement and spoke in their native Spanish of their love and pride in their young physician and their gratitude to America in giving her the opportunity to fulfill her dreams.

As Hilda Duenas, Teresa’s grandmother explained, “Today shows the greatest accomplishment is to dream.”

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