When Elona Rrapo Kaso ‘13MD interviewed for a place at UCF’s brand-new medical school in 2008, classrooms were not yet built, the curriculum was still in the planning stages, and the program was not even accredited. Medical City was still a dream, but she knew this was the place she wanted to care for patients after completing her training.
Today, she has returned to Lake Nona as a cardiac imaging specialist at the Orlando VA Medical Center, under the supervision of Chief of Cardiology Mark Milunski, a founding member of the College of Medicine Curriculum Planning Committee who interviewed her as a prospective student 13 years ago.
“As a medical student, I could always see myself one day coming back,” Rrapo Kaso says. “I always thought Medical City would be a great place to work. We would often hear Dean (Deborah) German speak about her vision for the Medical City in 10 years and 20 years. And that inspired me, so I really wanted to come back to apply my skills and my training here in the community.”
“I really wanted to come back to apply my skills and my training here in the community.” — Elona Rrapo Kaso ‘13MD
Born in Albania, Rrapo Kaso knew as a child she wanted to be a physician and her dream was to study and practice in the U.S. When she finished high school, her family migrated to America and moved to Clearwater, where she attended the University of South Florida, earned a bachelor’s in microbiology and Spanish, and graduated summa cum laude with high honors.
While at USF, she heard about UCF’s new medical school and the full four-year scholarships being offered for every member of the charter class. She was one of more than 4,000 applicants who applied for 40 places.
UCF was the first medical school in U.S. history to offer full scholarships for an entire class, thanks to more than $6.5 million in community donations. The medical school raised so much money that it was able to add another student, making 41 in the first class. Rrapo Kaso’s scholarship was sponsored by the Tavistock Group, who envisioned and spearheaded Medical City and also donated $12.5 million and 50 acres of land to the UCF to help establish the medical school.
“I was amazed at the opportunity that I saw when I first visited UCF,” she says. “Even though it was brand new, all the faculty were experts in their field who had the vision of building a new program that was better than what they had seen before. I was also impressed with the plans for the state-of-the-art facilities and it gave me confidence that this was the place I wanted to study.”
Milunski, now a volunteer faculty member at the medical school, was on the admissions committee that reviewed the thousands of applications and helped interview 200 finalists.
“When I interviewed the candidates, the question I would ask myself is, ‘Would I want this person to be my doctor?’” Milunski says. “And there was no question in my mind after reading Elona’s application and speaking with her. Not only did she have remarkable credentials, but I was also impressed with her story. She had a vision. She knew where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do, and then pursued it.”
Rrapo Kaso also remembers that interview, saying it gave her a clearer vision about her future.
“I clearly remember thinking … in my mind that when I finish all my training, I want to be a cardiologist like Dr. Milunski,” she says.
In her senior year at UCF, Rrapo Kaso matched into an internal medicine residency at Tufts Medical Center, Boston. She then completed a cardiovascular medicine and advanced cardiovascular imaging fellowship at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, VA.
Still passionate about returning to Orlando, she applied for the VA position and, for the second time in her medical career, interviewed with Dr. Milunski.
“When I came back, I was amazed at how Medical City has grown,” she says. “There are so many more medical buildings, housing and restaurants and shops and I was very excited to be back here. It’s a great opportunity to be involved in patient care, and especially a great honor to be providing care for veterans.”
In her new role, Rrapo-Kaso will help develop an advanced cardiac imaging program that will bring coronary CT angiography and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging services to the Orlando VA. She will also help train UCF internal medicine residents and medical students during their cardiology rotations.
“It is really great to have her back, and as a colleague this time,” Milunski says. “In a couple of years, we hope to get a cardiac surgical program here and become a full-service cardiovascular center. So we’re looking forward to have Elona grow in this unit and become a leader here.”