By Wendy Sarubbi | August 1, 2016 7:16 pm

A year ago as a UCF undergraduate volunteer, Aaron Pollock helped carry the giant “Good Doctor” blackboard filled with words like courage, compassion and integrity. On August 1, he helped write it.

Pollock was one of 120 first-year College of Medicine students who were honored as colleagues in healthcare at the traditional White Coat Ceremony (watch the full ceremony). As part of UCF’s annual event, College of Medicine Dean Deborah German holds the students’ first class, “The Good Doctor – a UCF Tradition.” There, she asks students to describe the characteristics of the doctor they want treating the person they love most. She writes the students’ words on a blackboard that is displayed all year. The traits become the students’ contract with their dean, faculty, medical school and community.

Pollock had worked the 2015 White Coat ceremony as a member of UCF’s President’s Leadership Council and a Health Sciences major, where he’d done research on tuberculosis. He’d always dreamed of becoming a UCF medical student. So when asked for a word to describe The Good Doctor, his choice: dedicated.

aaron pollock white coat“I moved that board into place last year,” he said. “And today, to have one of my words on that board…it was incredible.”

This year’s new class brings UCF’s young medical school to full enrollment of 480, up from the charter class of 41 in 2009. Since then, UCF has graduated 263 physicians. Its students are scoring in the top quartile nationally on the U.S. Medical Licensing and National Board of Medicine exams and have a higher residency match rate than the national average.

This year’s new class continues that excellence. Students are athletes, in sports including football, baseball, soccer and swimming. One is an Olympic wind surfer, another a competitive equestrian. They are military officers, including a Green Beret and assistant Army chaplain. They are humanitarians who have served their communities in hospice programs and free clinics. One fought Ebola in Africa. They are artists and entertainers, including two ballroom dancers, a ballet dancer and an improv comedian. The Class of 2020 includes a married couple, both with Ph.D.s, who chose UCF for their M.D. training. Fifty-two of the students conducted formal research before ever entering medical school, on topics including Alzheimer’s disease, autism, voice therapy and adverse reactions to medication.

Former Green Beret Philip Wessels called receiving his white coat “one of the most emotional moments of my life.” Before medical school, Wessels spent most of his adult life as a medic for the Army’s Special Forces. After military service, he earned his undergraduate degree at the UCF College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. “With the hard work and dedication that you put into something like this and to be here is almost surreal,” he said of his first day. “Now the real work begins.”

2016 white coatHaider Ali and Taimoor Khan were roommates and best friends at the University of Florida. Now they’re fellow first-year med students. They came to White Coat with “our tribe,” which included 10 friends visiting from Gainesville and two sets of families. The group filled the stage at UCF’s Pegasus Ballroom for a post-ceremony photo. As friends and family hugged and high-fived, Khan’s parents – mother Azra and father Unser — beamed. Both are physicians in South Florida who have cared for patients for almost 30 years. The Good Doctor message “told so beautifully what we do,” said Azra Khan “and what our son has in him. We are very proud.”

Family was also on the mind of Courtney Bell, who graduated from Emory University before joining UCF. “Just the look on my family’s face today is everything,” Bell said. “My family inspires me in so many ways to be a good person and to be a good doctor. It’s a dream I have always had to be a doctor and they have been incredibly supportive all the way.”

Following the ceremony, Dr. German gave students their last assignment of the day. She asked them to pull out the small card in the pocket of their white coats and to write on it their greatest dream for the future. Dr. German keeps the cards in her office and told students she reads them when she needs inspiration.

“Be bold,” she told students about describing their futures. “Our greatest opportunities are brilliantly disguised as impossible challenges. Your dreams fuel our dreams.”

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