By Wendy Sarubbi | September 21, 2015 3:41 pm

LeaThe first meeting of the College of Medicine’s Jewish Student Medical Association (JSMA) opened with a diverse set of students from a variety of backgrounds and faiths discussing ethics and how a physician’s culture impacts care.

The event’s interest was a welcome sight for JSMA founding President Lea Meir (left), an M.D. student in the class of 2018. She founded the organization this fall hoping to create a community for Jewish students and help colleagues across the medical school learn more about the Jewish culture.

“I think it’s important for students of all faiths to get the Jewish perspective, because they will ultimately be treating Jewish people in the future,” she said, adding that many of her friends in Florida had never met a Jewish person before meeting her. “I wanted to give the perspective of Judaism, and how it plays into medicine.”

Because UCF’s College of Medicine and the Medical City community are so young, Meir said her first year of medical school caused feelings of isolation. She couldn’t be with family to celebrate some holidays and there were limited local options. Some colleagues didn’t understand her dietary restrictions or her Sabbath. She hopes that the new organization will offer Jewish students a stronger sense of community both at the med school and beyond and help make the medical school more inclusive as a whole

The guest speaker for the JSMA’s inaugural September 8 event was  Dr. Lloyd Werk, pediatrics division chief at Nemours Children’s Hospital. “I’m a doc, who happens to be Jewish,” Dr. Werk told students. “And I needed that foundation for how I was going to care for my patients.

He spoke of his own journey of combining his love for medicine with a search for a deeper connection with his faith.  “You will have ethical dilemmas that will challenge you as a physician,” he said. “Having those values in place will help you deal with those situations.”

The JSMA forum’s topic was “What it means to save a life” and Dr. Werk encouraged students to learn more about the foundations of their individual faiths and engage clergy members in their exploration.  “Now is a good time to reflect on their foundations when it comes to caring for patients,” he said. “I want them to leverage that to better understand the people they see.

Some students commented that they often get caught up in studying the science of being a physician, and lose sight of the their original desire for becoming a physician. Events like JSMA’s allow them to re-evaluate their motivation on an even deeper level. “The topic helps to remind us why we are in medical school,” said second-year student and JSMA Vice President Madeline Goldberg. “I think it’s important to take a step back from the book, and remember that this is about people.”

Meir said she hopes the new organization will open increased avenues for discussion and understanding across the entire college community.  “If we can start with this, we can understand someone of the Sikh faith, or Christianity, Islam—anything really,” she said.

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