It was a journey that began like most do for medical classes at the University of Florida. They met for the first time in August 2003 on their first day of orientation and said goodbye this past May after an emotional graduation ceremony at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
What happened in the four years between has changed each of their lives and prepared them well as they continue their journey into the next phase of their medical careers. All graduation ceremonies are special, but there was particular charm and distinction to the medical class of 2007 that was palpable during this year’s graduation.
In addition to intellectual achievement (the group achieved the highest score on Step 2 of the USMLE in the history of the medical school) they distinguished themselves by their great humanism and professionalism, said Patrick Duff, MD, associate dean for student affairs who was chosen by the class for this year’s Hippocratic Award.
“A large number of class members participated in the international mission trips, and they displayed exceptional enthusiasm for the Equal Access Clinic,” Duff said of the most recent graduation class.
But more than high test scores and a philanthropic spirit, the 125 class members distinguished themselves through their display of unity and care for one another. Each brought individual stories of perseverance, struggles and success to the group, and they combined those stories to create one unique and inspiring class.
A few examples include artists like Juliessa Pavon, a musician of exceptional quality who performed an original composition on the piano during the Maren Reading Room dedication that she wrote in honor of her grandmother. Pavon received the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine award and moved on to Duke University as a resident in internal medicine.
Colin Moore’s story was one of triumph over cancer. He first came to the College of Medicine and Shands in 1997 on the day he turned 16 to begin a lengthy battle against cancer that had started in his right leg and worked its way to his skull and left eye. Mark Scarborough, MD, the orthopaedic surgeon who treated Moore, escorted his former patient across the stage at the graduation and presented him with his hood. Moore will return to his hometown to complete a residency in pediatrics at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
And there is Dean Chapman, who at 52 when he entered medical school, is credited with setting the tone for the entire class from the beginning.
“Dean’s influence on the class is enormous,” said Ira Gessner, MD, assistant dean of admissions. “Just through the kind of person he is.”
Even though 30 years older than his classmates, Chapman quickly became the student the others looked to for guidance and friendship.
“Dean is a great resource for all of us,” classmate Doug Arnold said early in their first year. “The class wouldn’t be the same without him.”
Chapman, a former pastor of an Orlando church, will continue his training at the University of Vermont in internal medicine and plans to specialize in geriatrics. He calls medical school the most blessed time in his life, but it wasn’t without adversity. He underwent open heart surgery in the summer between second and third year and suffered severe insomnia for years until he finally found relief in January.
As the soul of the class of 2007, it was fitting that at their graduation he provided the day’s most emotional moments with his commencement speech.
“[The No. 1 reason] for coming to medical school in your fifties: You get to share life with the best people on the planet,” he told the crowd packed in the Performing Arts Center. “The real joy in life is working in concert with people of character, strength, energy, compassion, intelligence, humor and affection. And once, every 100 years or so, you get so many of those people together in one place, that it creates a totally different world than the world everyone else is living in.”