By Wendy Sarubbi | May 16, 2013 5:31 pm

The hopes and dreams of 36 students and their families, friends and supporters culminated May 17 at UCF’s first College of Medicine commencement ceremony.

It was the climax of an exciting dream to create a national model for medical education right here in Orlando.

COM_graduation_2013_379“Less than a decade ago, we at UCF dreamed of creating a research-based medical college that would become the gold standard for medical education,” UCF President John C. Hitt told students and the more than 900 guests gathered at the Venue to witness the historic moment.

“Our bold idea had no state authorization, no funding and no friends on Facebook. According to many skeptics, we also had no business proposing such a thing. Some people called us crazy, and that was putting it politely,” said President Hitt. “So what was America’s leading partnership university to do? We joined forces with others in this community and elsewhere with vision and common cause. Together, we fought hard for our dream and refused to give up. Eventually, the impossible – a new medical college for UCF – became the inevitable.”

The community raised money– lots of it– to build a state-of-the-art facility at Lake Nona and then another $6.5 million to give the charter class of students four-year scholarships, the first time in the United States an entire class was given a full ride. The scholarships were used to recruit students with pioneering spirits who would not only learn medicine but would help build the school and eventually become leaders in their respective fields.

The community took a chance, and so did the students who arrived and began studying at a yet to be accredited school.

COM_graduation_2013_248The gamble paid off Friday. Students earned their degrees from a fully accredited medical school, and many are headed to some of the best residency programs in the nation, where they will train in specialties from primary care to surgery, diagnostic radiology to pediatrics.

The community won, too. Several outstanding students decided to stay in Florida, and those who are leaving will become ambassadors for the program. Their excellence will make others wonder what UCF and Orlando are doing to produce such stellar stars.

Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and founding dean of the College of Medicine, told graduates that they helped the college become what it is and that they have left their imprint forever. She reminded them of their first lesson in medical school – her lecture on becoming The Good Doctor.  “So, now I have a question,” she said. “Have you become The Good Doctor?  Does this question make you feel uncomfortable? I think so and I think the reason you feel anxious is because you now know that becoming The Good Doctor is a lifelong endeavor…To be a good doctor you must be a good person.”

Many students credit Dr. German as the visionary who inspired them to take a chance on a new school. Some, like Sarina Amin, who will be completing her residency training at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, said being part of UCF and its innovative approach to medicine actually was an advantage, not a hindrance, when applying to residencies.

Sarina and her classmates walked across the stage, were hooded, shook hands with President Hitt and Dr. German, and then received their diplomas from the donors who made their individual scholarship possible. The graduates then signed the Hippocratic Oath and recited it as a group. The oath was given by Dr. Lori Boardman, assistant dean for medical education, and her father, Dr. Will Boardman, who spent his career as a cardiologist caring for patients in Central Florida.

COM_graduation_2013_151Sarina, an Orlando native who wants to return to Orlando to teach or work at a local hospital, was thrilled to see her family in the audience as well her extended family – the entire office staff from the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, which paid for her scholarship. The staffers, who she got to know over the four years, rearranged their schedules so they could all attend.

The charter class scholarships were Dr. German’s idea. She was the recipient of a full scholarship to Harvard Medical School, and her support and enthusiasm have inspired the graduates to do their part, too. The class this week established a $50,000 scholarship at the college and pledged to raise the needed $300,000 over the next 10 years to make the scholarship permanent.

Students weren’t the only ones celebrating. Guests at the ceremony who helped raise money to build the college and who helped convince the legislature that the school was a good idea also were on hand.

Once the Legislature approved the college in 2006, individuals, government groups and businesses began pulling together to turn the vision into reality. The Tavistock Company, owners and developers of Lake Nona, donated $12.5 million plus land for the new medical school and what would become the Medical City. Today, it is home to Nemours Children’s Hospital, M.D. Anderson Orlando’s Cancer Research Institute, UCF’s Health Sciences campus, Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research’s east coast campus, and a University of Florida research facility. The Orlando VA Medical Center is expected to open in 2014.

Medical City is expected to generate 30,000 jobs and $7.8 billion in annual economic activity by the year 2017, and has been compared to Walt Disney World in terms of its economic impact on Central Florida.

As many have said, this is only the beginning. A burgeoning biomedical cluster is forming at Medical City. Once the celebrations are over, it’s back to work for everyone.

And the College of Medicine is betting even bigger: this August, 120 students—the first class with full enrollment —will begin their studies.

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