By Wendy Sarubbi | January 26, 2015 5:35 pm

Dr. Magdalena Pasarica is an M.D.-Ph.D. who’s passionate about family medicine – and she is sharing that passion with UCF College of Medicine students. An associate professor, she just helped students begin a student interest group for family medicine that now has about 30 members and recently receive d recognition and grant funding from statewide and national family practice organizations.

Family medicine specialists like Dr. Pasarica can care for children to the elderly. And because they deal with entire families – and their shared lifestyle – Dr. Pasarica says family medicine practitioners develop a special understanding of patient needs. “In family medicine you actually have the ability to be part of a family,” she said. “You take care of the child, the mother of the child, the grandparents. Because you treat the whole family, you can make positive, successful lifestyle changes because family members can support each other.”

M.D. student Aleks Kovalskiy of the class of 2018 knows that relationship first-hand. Kovalskiy, recently elected president of the Family Medicine Interest Group, said he and his parents have had the same family physician since they came to America from the Ukraine years ago. “The relationship and connection my doctor has with my family is something I want to emulate,” said Kovalskiy, who received his undergraduate degree from UCF and describes himself as a “Knight for life.”

Part of the family medicine group’s goal is to help students understand the diversity of career options available with that specialty. Dr. Pasarica points out that some family medicine physicians specialize their practices – focusing on children or obstetrics. Others become hospitalists or work in palliative care centers like hospice, and there are many more options. “The world of family medicine is such a big opportunity,” she said. “I want the students to realize that.”

She points to her College of Medicine family medicine colleagues as evidence. Dr. Lisa Barkley specializes in adolescent and sports medicine. Dr. Mariana Dangiolo focuses on geriatrics. Dr. Daniel Topping focuses on academic medicine, especially anatomy, and recently trained local paramedic-firefighters in the medical school’s state-of-the-art Anatomy Lab. Dr. Pasarica is a physician-scientist who focuses her research on nutrition and the treatment of obesity.

The group wants to provide a variety of events in the coming year to raise awareness about family medicine. It recently joined the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, which offers networking and leadership opportunities for medical students interested in the specialty. That organization will hold its next statewide meeting in Orlando in April. In addition, the American Association For Family Physicians recently awarded the group a $600 grant that will be used to purchase an advanced body composition scale and organize a student event using it. The technology allows people to determine their BMI as well as their body age. Dr. Pasarica and Kovalskiy are planning to set up events where students, faculty and staff can determine their body age in order to help them see how lifestyle choices are aging their bodies or helping keep them young. Dr. Pasarica said the group is thinking of beginning a longitudinal study so medical students can see how their health changes during their four years of medical school and the impact that uncontrolled sleep deprivation, stress and poor eating can have. In May, College of affiliated faculty member Dr. Ernestine Lee will present a program on mindfulness as a way for physicians to increase focus, reduce stress and improve medical care in a family practice setting. Dr. Lee is a family medicine specialist at Florida Hospital and a faculty member for the hospital’s family medicine residency program.

The goal of all these events and the student group is to raise awareness about family medicine as a specialty. “Family practice means being able to have a relationship with a person not just for a week but for a lifetime,” Kovalskiy said. “And being able to have that relationship with the entire family so you can help them all stay well.”

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