eHealthWatch Special Report
UCF Inspires Incoming Med Students Bellew and Bright
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – University of Central Florida College of Medicine Dean Deborah German, MD, welcomed the charter class on Aug. 3 by announcing the community’s record-breaking support of the medical school has allowed the College of Medicine to add a student to the class – bringing the first-year total to 41 students.
Over 900 attended the special “White Coat Ceremony,” a tradition that welcomes students into the medical profession. Each student received a first-of-its-kind full scholarship — funded entirely from community donations — that covers all costs for four years of medical school.
UCF’s outstanding charter class has the highest average MCAT score (32.2) and GPA (3.8) of any incoming class of medical students in the state. With more than 4,300 applications, UCF broke the state university record for most applications, and for this year is the most selective medical school in the country.
“Today we begin a long tradition of excellence, and we will set the bar high,” Dr. German said. “We were looking for students with that enterprising, pioneering spirit who wanted to building something as they went through medical school.”
Bellew “Spent Hundreds of Hours Staring at Skeletons”
As a pre-med undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida, Shawna Bellew took lots of ribbing about the courses that comprised her official degree: Interdisciplinary Studies, sort of a design your own bachelor’s degree based on seemingly divergent interests.
Natural sciences seemed a logical choice, but her full art studio minor and concentration in letters and languages led some to question her commitment to medicine.
She would use that interesting degree choice as the focal point of her medical school application essay, writing, “I have spent hundreds of hours staring at skeletons in dusty drawing studios. I can draw parts of the shoulder blade from memory whose names I have long forgotten from anatomy class.”
“I think I had a strong personal statement because of my writing background,” explains the 22-year-old, one of 41 incoming students at her alma mater’s new College of Medicine to earn admission and a full, $160,000 scholarship covering all four years of medical school. “I also have this really, really high MCAT score.”
MCAT stands for the Medical College Admission Test and in addition to scoring high on that requirement, Bellew has always been a scholar, graduating from the Fort Myers Senior High School International Baccalaureate program with the highest grade point average in her county that year.
“I visited medical schools where they said they were looking for students who were philanthropic or who wanted to work in underserved communities, but they offered no real incentives for people to go in that direction,” says Bellew, who grew up on the tiny southwest Florida island of Matlacha in awe of her father’s career as an emergency room physician.
“I feel the way that Dr. German has organized the system with these scholarships, it’s actually giving people an incentive to go into fields where they would be compensated less. These scholarships are drawing in the best students and it’s creating a lot of buzz about the medical school.”
She says her artistic background led to an interest in plastic and reconstructive surgery as a way of helping people, but she’s not certain and is open-minded about which medical specialty she’ll wind up practicing.
“I have so many ideas and tend to be all over the place. I’d like to be an expert on bioethics, that’s really fascinating to me,” she explains. “I took an ethics class and I took a class on how religion affects medicine, so I think one of the things I’m interested in still is writing papers as a physician about medical ethics and possibly being involved in journalism.”
Determined to Make A Difference
Steven Bright’s road to the UCF medical school took him through Tulane University where he got a psychology degree. He’s spent the last year applying to medical schools while teaching high school chemistry near Boston as part of the U.S. government’s AmeriCorps program, the Peace Corps-style national community service initiative.
“The summer after I graduated I travelled to Peru and volunteered in a medical clinic for a month and then travelled around Bolivia for a month,” says Bright.
“From a young age I’ve been travelling a lot. My grandparents are in South Africa. I think that’s where I get my pioneering spirit and I’m looking forward to developing it even more.”
Bright and Bellew face about six years of medical training. After graduating from UCF, next comes an internship, during which they care for patients under another physician’s supervision plus a residency in the specialty field they choose.
For Bright, that specialization most likely will be primary care medicine, combined with international public health work shortly after graduation. He’s determined to make a difference and he thinks he’s in the right place to start down that path.
“All the other medical schools I applied to, it was pretty formal and pretty standard, but at UCF it was almost inspirational. This idea of keeping the dream alive was something I had not heard anywhere else,” he adds.
“It’s going to be a little family I think — a very different experience than other medical schools and I think it will set us apart and give us a different perspective when we come out.
BREVARD COUNTY NATIVE Dr. Marcy Verduin is the UCF College of Medicine’s assistant dean for students – and an associate professor of psychiatry, who also helped craft the complex curriculum.