Miller School Welcomes Freshmen

In greeting the Miller School’s newest students at their freshman orientation last week, Robert Hernandez, M.D., tempered his words of welcome with an early dose of reality: “Medical school is a real challenge and you will be pushed here,’’ the senior associate dean for medical student administration told the students. “You will be pushed to your limit.’’

Noting that now their mistakes could impact someone else’s life, Hernandez also warned, “Some of you will ask, ‘Do I have what it takes to really be here?’”

More excited than daunted by the four years of hard work that lie ahead, the 155 students answered with ardent applause. Among them was Thomas Hughes, a Virginia Commonwealth University psychology graduate who decided to pursue a medical rather than teaching career when he was a sophomore.

“It’s good to hear about what’s really ahead from the people who have already been there,” Hughes said of the August 4 orientation. “It’s been a long process and there will be difficult days, but it’s a great reward to be sitting here today. It’s a fantastic feeling, like a dream.”

That dream became reality for only one out of every 29 students who applied to the Miller School for either the M.D. program or the new four-year M.D./M.P.H. program, which began in June. The Office of Admissions interviewed only 478 of the nearly 5,900 applicants. Of the 207 students who make up the Class of 2015, 52 signed on for the dual M.D./M.P.H. degree.

“We truly have an amazing group of people and you should all be very proud,” said Richard Weisman, Pharm.D., associate dean for admissions, who spearheaded the recruitment process. Profiling the class, he said members had an average GPA of 3.73, an average science GPA of 3.66, and an average MCAT score of 31.3. Among many undergraduate majors, 61 students concentrated on biology while three studied aerospace engineering.

Women comprise almost 54 percent of the class, and Floridians nearly 70 percent. The 14 who hail from California make up the second largest contingent. Brisas Flores, a psychology major who graduated from Georgetown University, is one of two students from Guam. She considered a few career paths, but was drawn to medicine after taking a biology class that included discussion of current medical issues.

“I thought, ‘Oh My God, this is so fascinating,’” she said, recalling how profoundly the class affected her. “I really enjoyed it, and because I also loved science, medicine seemed like the perfect career choice. I am so glad to be here today.”

Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, implored Flores and her new classmates to take time to “savor this moment.”

“Twenty-one years ago I sat in this very auditorium,” said Mechaber, who graduated from the Miller School in 1994. “Despite the obstacles, you are embarking on a great journey.”

Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., the Miller School’s executive dean for education and policy, congratulated the students on their commitment and “what will be an inexorable series of progressions in your medical career.’’

“This is a big day,’’ Gardner, a Harvard Medical School grad, added. “We wanted you, and you wanted to be here.”

For Kristy Whyte, “no other medical school stood a chance.”

“I went to undergrad at UM because I also wanted to come to UM’s medical school,” said Whyte, an exercise physiology major who ran track and was influenced by her nurse practitioner mother. “I felt this was something I should be doing and this was the place where I should be doing it. It became my mission and I dreamed about it for so long.”

Also welcoming the new students were Student Government President Jason Aminsharifi, Medical Alumni Association President-elect Jeff Block, M.D., and a number of faculty and staff who introduced the curriculum and campus policies and procedures. Various welcome events continue through August 12 and include social affairs for both the M.D. and M.D./M.P.H. students. Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., will address the group on August 10.

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