A food blogger, a Greco-Roman wrestler and a former Air Force intelligence officer are among 120 future physicians who will begin their medical school journey August 7 at the UCF College of Medicine.
The Class of 2021 is the medical school’s ninth class since the charter class enrolled in 2009. Students were selected from a pool of 4,823 applicants based on their academic excellence and passion for medicine.
The 59 women and 61 men graduated from institutions such as Baylor, Columbia, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Rutgers, Wake Forest, University of Florida and of course, UCF.
The class has four military veterans, one Ph.D. and 17 students with master’s degrees. Students are fluent in 29 languages besides English.
They will join UCF at the traditional White Coat Ceremony, where incoming students are recognized as colleagues in healthcare. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. in the Pegasus Ballroom in the Student Union on UCF’s main campus.
Here are just some of the faces of the Class of 2021:
Whenever she eats out, Christina Seto always takes longer to order than her friends. As one of the estimated 15 million Americans who suffer from food allergies, the new UCF College of Medicine student Googles restaurants, pores over menus and worries about what to eat. So she started a blog, Brunch With Bear, that allows her to cope with food allergies and help others do the same.
Bear, a furry brown stuffed teddy bear, has accompanied Seto to restaurants across the globe and helps her spread awareness about food allergies, cross-contamination in food preparation and EpiPen safety.
“For me, Brunch with Bear is a wonderful creative outlet,” Seto said. “I have always considered writing to be my one superpower, and my passion for food could only inspire me to write more.”
Blogging came easy for Seto, who was a Writing Fellow at Barnard College where she double majored in English and Neuroscience. “I found deep connections between the brain as an organ and the expression of the mind through humanities,” she said, “and I enjoyed the interdisciplinary study immensely.”
Seto was born in California and moved to New York for her undergraduate studies. She looked forward to exploring the Big Apple’s diverse culinary culture, but instead found herself spending hours in her dorm room worrying about what to eat. Allergic to nuts and dairy, she suffered an anaphylactic reaction to food from the dining hall during her first week at Barnard.
“Food has been on the periphery of my worries for most of my life,” she said. “I grew up in Los Angeles, a place where food allergies are —-widely understood and often easily accommodated. In New York, I found it harder to get the same consideration without extra costs. There was no resource for a girl like me—a girl who has food allergies but still wants to get a decent breakfast at a lunchtime hour.”
The idea for the blog came out of a conversation she had with her Barnard roommate who was also an avid blogger. The teddy bear, which Seto has had since she was a baby, seemed like a natural addition to the blog.
“Bear is excited about medical school,” she said. “He’s already got his white coat and can’t wait to meet his classmates!”
Growing up in Tampa Bay, Kimberly Shinabarker dreamed of going into the medical field. Then the September 11 terrorist attack happened, and she felt the call to serve her country.
“I have always felt a strong sense of patriotism, having come from a military family with my dad previously serving in the Air Force for 20 years, and my granddad having served as a pilot in World War II,” she said. “Additionally, I wanted to challenge myself at a top-tier academic institution and do something different and unique from my high school classmates.”
Shinabarker decided to attend the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, graduating in 2009 with a concentration in foreign area studies and fulfilling the dreams of her parents, neither of whom had a chance to go to college. But then, a medical emergency struck close to home.
“Shortly after graduation and military commissioning, my husband was diagnosed with melanoma,” Shinabarker said. “Witnessing the kind and professional medical staff managing his treatment inspired me towards thinking, ultimately, about a career in medicine.”
While in the Air Force, she gradually made her way up in rank as an intelligence officer. She led preparation for Special Operations, combat air support and security missions, including one for a visit by President Obama to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. She also served as chief of the intelligence branch while stationed at Patrick Air Force Base.
It was during her second deployment to Bagram Airfield in 2013 that she began seriously reconsidering becoming a physician. She worked closely with fighter squadron medics and flight surgeons, including a female medic who voluntarily made trips outside the base to provide medical care to destitute Afghani women.
“Her face offered a mixture of joy and sorrow as she told me about the aid she provided women who were in desperate need of care, yet received none due to the conflict and cultural obstacles,” Shinabarker said. “As an analyst, I had access to information that enabled me to fully appreciate the effects of the conflict on civilians. However, I had no avenue to directly help the local population.”
After 10 years in the Air Force, Shinabarker enrolled at George Washington University’s post-baccalaureate pre-med program.
She chose UCF because its curriculum focuses on giving students clinical experiences from their first days of medical school and because of its innovative teaching tools.
“Good health underpins so many things in our lives,” she said. “While I enjoyed my career and experiences in the Air Force and would never change the path that I have taken, my interest in helping others to live healthier lives persisted through my Air Force career and I knew I would regret not pursuing my dream to go into medicine.”
Like the famous UCF football alumnus who shares his name, Brandon Marshall is also an athlete. Instead of the football field, he chose to prove himself on the Greco-Roman wrestling mats.
He’s been a part of the “family of wrestling” for as long as he can remember.
“I was 3 months old when I was first on a wrestling mat,” he said. “My dad was a coach and my mom would take me to visit during practice. I was so comfortable on the mat that I never actually crawled. I went straight into a wrestling shoot if I wanted to move.”
In the fall of his sophomore year in high school, he suffered a complete ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear in his elbow, and a near-complete tear of the common flexor tendon in his left arm. All of the doctors he went to suggested that with the proper therapy, he would return to the mats, but the MRIs weren’t showing a clear picture.
Marshall was worried he would not be able to regain the upper body strength needed to compete effectively. So he decided to see Dr. James Andrews, the well-regarded head of the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, FL whose client list includes a wide range of star athletes.
At first, Dr. Andrews gave Marshall the same prognosis as the other doctors. But he wanted to get a clearer MRI to be absolutely sure. When the MRI came back, Dr. Andrews revised his assessment – Marshall would need surgery after all. He admitted he had made an error and that humility made a deep impression on Marshall.
“This man is the reason I want to go to medical school,” Marshall said. “After one of the most storied careers in orthopedics, he was still willing to admit that he is not infallible. He recognized that he was human just like all of his patients, and gave no one preferential treatment.”
After four months of grueling rehabilitation, Marshall was able to return to the mats. He advanced to Northern Michigan University’s U.S. Olympic training site for Greco-Roman wrestlers, competing around the world. Today, he makes time to mentor underserved youth through wrestling in a program called “Beat the Streets.”
Marshall credits his success to Dr. Andrews.
“I am able to confidently pursue my dreams because one doctor was willing to put his patients before anyone’s ego, even his own.”
Adam Foley knew he wanted to be a physician the moment he took the job of lifeguard in his hometown of Pensacola. There, he learned how to treat a beachgoer’s cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.
“I found the medical aspect of my training to be very intriguing and often found myself wanting to know more about what was being discussed,” he said. “I vividly remember being hooked after my very first day when I had to run a medical emergency on the beach and being able to implement the training I had received to provide care to this particular patient.”
His interest in the medical field ultimately led him to UCF, where he enrolled in The Burnett Honors College and became a part of the inaugural class of Burnett Medical Scholars. He was one of only 12 students selected to the highly competitive program, which guarantees a seat at the College of Medicine for undergraduates who meet admissions requirements and engage in additional scientific training, including writing an undergraduate research thesis.
Foley spent his undergraduate years immersed in preparation for the medical field. He shadowed an orthopedic surgeon at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, FL. He researched the polyamine transport system, which carries molecules that are required for critical cell processes but may also feed malignant cells.
One of his internships took him abroad. At a community health clinic in Khayelitsha, a low-income township in Cape Town, South Africa, he shadowed nurses and doctors and interacted with patients, many of whom were initially suspicious of an outsider.
“The township was essentially born out of the apartheid movement, and even today, a majority of the people there live in shacks with limited access to water,” he said.
One night at a trauma center was particularly harrowing.
“I remember vividly the sound of gunshots through the night just beyond the clinic’s walls and being told under no circumstances was I to go outside. Stabbing victims filled the limited beds throughout the night, including one man who was left for dead in a ditch a couple of miles outside the clinic.”
Despite the danger, the experience confirmed his desire to pursue medicine.
“The patients at the clinic, many of whom end up waiting an entire day to be seen, were all so deeply appreciative of the care that they received,” he said. “More than anything, I was completely humbled by the way in which these people are overcoming their own trials and tribulations and remain optimistic about the future.”