On May 4, Austin Burns walked across the stage with 231 undergraduate and eight graduate students from the medical school’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, with his father, aunt, fiancée and UCF pre-nursing brother cheering from the stands. This fall, he’ll start the next chapter of his medical career at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“Not only am I graduating from UCF, I’m leaving Orlando for the foreseeable future,” he said. “While here, I have found amazing mentors and conducted meaningful research during my time at UCF, so I will be sorry to say goodbye.”
Burns joined about 7,900 University of Central Florida students who were expected to graduate in six ceremonies May 4-6 at the CFE Arena. And he leaves behind quite a legacy. While at UCF, Burns received the Order of Pegasus, the university’s highest student honor. He also conducted research in nanotechnology with his mentor, College of Medicine faculty member, Dr. Bill Self. In addition, he was president of the Pre-Med American Medical Student Association, a graduate of the LEAD Scholars Academy and The Burnett Honors College.
“We are very proud of our Burnett School graduates and their terrific accomplishments while at UCF,” said Dr. Griffith Parks, director of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.
Many Burnett School graduates are going on into graduate studies and careers in science, research and medicine. Burns, who came to UCF as a National Merit Scholar from his native state of Montana, hopes to pursue a career as a doctor caring for the underserved.
“UCF is double the size of my hometown, and more of a city than I was really accustomed to,” he said. “One of the things I really liked about UCF was just how friendly everybody was. Being from a small town, a lot of people know each other and have a really strong social circle. I was worried, coming to UCF, that it was going to be too big and I wasn’t going to be able to make those friendships.”
Burns first became interested in working with underserved populations while participating in the Straight Street Orlando food share, which provides meals on Sunday nights to homeless people in downtown Orlando, and doing clinical volunteer work with Shepherd’s Hope, a non-profit providing healthcare access to the uninsured.
“The LEAD Scholars program really emphasizes social justice and giving back to the community, and was what got me first interested in giving back to underprivileged populations,” he said. “With healthcare costs continuing to rise, we need to improve how we are able to deliver care to all of our citizens.”
Attending medical school in Baltimore will help Burns realize his goal of providing care to those most in need.
“A good portion of the people who come to Johns Hopkins as a primary source of care are from the impoverished areas of Baltimore, so most of these individuals don’t have any kind of health insurance. Medications can be extremely expensive, and if they can’t afford it, they’re just going to be right back in the clinic. When I become a physician, I want to make sure we do everything in our power to make sure they’re able to get the treatment they need so they don’t have to come back for the same conditions time and again.”
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