Class of 2016 Begins with High Expectations

Rachel Thompson may not have taken the traditional route to medical school, but she is rather typical of the Miller School’s Class of 2016, the “smartest” in the school’s history. An economics major who found her calling while working for a business consulting firm that was developing medical curriculum, Thompson was accepted to three other medical schools, but chose UM’s.

“It’s an honor to be here,” the University of Michigan graduate said during the August 9-10 freshmen orientation, where she and 149 classmates learned that no previous class had surpassed their GPA and MCAT scores. “I just fell in love with the opportunity to serve the community, even outside the country, and the wealth of exposure to different diseases and populations you get here.”

Welcoming the freshmen, Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., congratulated the 87 men and 63 women, who range in age from 19 to 36, for the years of hard work and notable accomplishments that earned them a spot on the Miller School’s admission’s list.

“In case you didn’t know, your class is about 150 individuals and more than 6,000 people applied to be in your shoes,” the Dean said. “That’s an extraordinary accomplishment…The fact is now you are 150 students who are all in that exceptional category. You have the pleasure and the honor to be with peers who are incredibly accomplished, and that’s one of the wonders of medical school.”

The Dean also shared a few highlights of the Miller School’s unique service to the community, its cutting-edge science and its affiliation with one of the largest and best public hospitals in the nation. For example, he told the students about the Miller School’s unprecedented response to the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, and the FDA’s recent approval of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis’ long-awaited clinical trial to evaluate the safety of transplanting Schwann cells to repair spinal cord injuries.

Noting he graduated from medical school more than 30 years ago, the Dean encouraged the freshmen to envision their careers 30 years from now, when advances in genetic-based medicine will enable physicians to focus more on preventing than managing disease.

“That’s going to be the biggest difference between the way we were educated and the way you are educated,” the Dean said. “Think about 2050. You will be at the peak of your careers and it will be the middle of the 21st century, and you will be leaders of the medical field, and the big reason why you will be leaders is because you came to this medical school.”

Laurence Gardner, M.D., Executive Dean for Education and Policy, told the students he “had the privilege of training a whole bunch of your deans” before the advent of smartphones, tablets and the Internet, and urged them to think of 2050 in the context of the tools, especially for detecting genomic abnormalities early in life, that will be available then.

“The technologies that many of us had never thought of and depend on today are likely to be obsolete and there will be new ones tomorrow,” he said. “We’ve been practicing in the last 10 percent of the disease curve instead of the beginning 5 percent where opportunities to reverse or prevent the disease process really exist, and that’s what we think you’re going to be doing.”

Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education, who 22 years ago sat “with apprehension and awe” in the same fifth-floor auditorium in the Rosenstiel Medical Science Building for his own freshmen orientation, promised the members of the Class of 2016 that medical school will be a transformative experience.

“You are going to experience things that will change your lives forever,” he said. “But you are also going to have the opportunity to transform medicine as well. That’s an incredible privilege.”

Among those who also addressed the students were: Carlos A. Migoya, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jackson Health System; Kartik Telukuntla, Student Government Executive President; Steven Falcone, M.D., MBA, Chief Executive of the University of Miami at Jackson Memorial Hospital and President of the Medical Alumni Association; Richard Riley, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Pre-Clinical Curriculum; Paul Mendez, M.D., Assistant Dean for Clinical Curriculum; Ana E. Campo, M.D., Associate Dean for Student Affairs; Mark O’Connell, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Educational Development; Hilit F. Mechaber, M.D., Associate Dean for Student Services; and Richard Weisman, Pharm.D., Associate Dean for Admissions, who gave an overview of the class profile.

Noting that 51 percent of the class had been accepted to at least two other medical schools, Weisman told the members they had the highest metrics ever, including an average 3.75 GPA and an average 32.4 on the MCAT. “We hope we can live up to your expectations,” Weisman said.

Spencer Summers, one of the 102 class members from Florida, has no doubt it will. A resident of Boca Raton who graduated from Vanderbilt University with dual BA degrees in Spanish and Medicine, Health and Society, said he was accepted to five medical schools but chose UM because of its diverse patient population, affiliation with Jackson, welcoming environment and growing reputation.

“The school just seems to be skyrocketing in the right direction,” he said. “There was no other medical school I wanted to go to.”

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