They came to UCF’s young medical school as artists, scientists, athletes and community volunteers. Friday, they — the College of Medicine’s 10 graduating class — became physicians, leaving a legacy of caring for the underserved and persevering through a global pandemic.

With the latest M.D. degrees awarded, UCF’s medical school has now graduated 956 doctors, gaining a national reputation for its excellence, innovation and pioneering spirit as it helps build an emerging Medical City at Lake Nona.

UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright reminded the new physician Knights that UCF opened in 1963 to support the space program and NASA’s efforts to land humans on the moon. He called that effort “the most ambitious undertaking humans had ever known at that time. And they succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Just like our medical school. That’s what UCF does. We build the future.”

More than any other class, this year’s graduates had pushed to care for those in need. They led the student-run free KNIGHTS (Keeping Neighbors In Good Health Through Service) Clinic at Grace Medical Home. When the pandemic hit and students could not provide in-person care, they coordinated telehealth visits for patient education. They provided wound care and vaccinations in tents to Orlando’s homeless and participated in a free clinic for Apopka farmworkers, where they worked with a local organization to get a donated prosthetic leg for a patient who lost his from diabetes.

“Class of 2022, you are special to me,” Deborah German, vice president for Health Affairs and founding dean, said at commencement ceremonies. “You have been a part of my dream since the beginning, more than a decade ago. Before the faculty were hired, the buildings were built, the curriculum was created, I dreamed about you — the class that would show us who we had become. Would you be kind, compassionate, and knowledgeable? I hoped you would do great things. You have not disappointed me. You have expanded my dream.”

This year’s 108 graduates include:

  • Spencer Adams ’22MD, a father of two who helped create the Chapman Compassionate Care clinic for downtown Orlando’s homeless. As he walked across the state to receive his diploma, his son cheered, “Yeah, daddy!” in the midst of hundreds at Addition Financial Arena. Adams is going to Michigan State to become a pediatrician because he wants to be “a voice for children.”
  • Six officers of the U.S. Army and Navy who will do their residencies at military hospitals caring for the nation’s heroes or enter military service after concluding civilian residencies. After receiving their diplomas, the officers were promoted in full uniform on-stage by UCF medical school faculty.
  • Katie Ballantyne ’22MD, a college volleyball star who came to UCF because she says, “the culture was unmatched. I was able to flourish because of the support and connection I had here.” She is going to Boston Children’s Hospital as an honors College of Medicine graduate to be an advocate for young people, “because they bring me joy.”
  • Andrew Gartland ’22MD, a computer whiz who created a new electronic health record to provide more coordinated care at UCF’s farmworkers clinic and will now train in medicine-pediatrics at University of North Carolina, “so I can care for people small to tall.”
  • Nisha Sharma ’22MD, an India native who will complete an internal medicine residency at the University of Southern California and the younger sister of UCF College of Medicine Class of 2020 graduate Naina Sharma ’20MD. Missing her own commencement due to the pandemic, Naina  — who is  an internal medicine resident at Hofstra University — attended the ceremony and borrowed another graduate’s cap and gown for photos and to experience some of her own commencement celebration.
  • Michael Chiang ’20MS ’22MD, the first Knight to earn a dual degree in medicine and hospitality. He will complete his residency training in emergency medicine at University of Texas – Southwestern Medical Center.
Naina (left) and Nisha Sharma (right) high-five each other after Friday’s commencement ceremony for the Class of 2022.

Class speaker Vincent Cendan ’22MD helped lead many of the Class of 2022’s community care efforts. He applauded his “determined, battle-tested, inspiring” classmates who had done clinical training during a pandemic and had their board exams postponed because of COVID-19 challenges.

He said that as a naïve pre-med student he had been more concerned about the “perceived prestige of my future medical school rather than the quality of education.” A physician he was shadowing was the first person to emphasize the importance of fit when choosing my medical school. He advised Cendan, “Any place you go will teach you medicine; Go to a place that teaches you how to be a doctor.”

He thanked the College of Medicine leaders, faculty and staff who had done just that.

“Never forget why you are here,” he said to his classmates. “You are the guide for the disenfranchised, the hope for the desperate, and if nothing else, the listening ears for the voiceless.”

After commencement, Tuleagh Innes-Gawn ’22MD held her diploma and stood with her scholarship donors, Hala A. Madi-Shalhoub and Jad Shalhoub ’19. The Shalhoubs — son and mother — established Advanced Vascular Solutions in Sebastian, Florida. Jad is a UCF industrial engineering graduate whose mother said she never dreamed his degree would one day involve finding safer, more cost-effective surgical treatments. They created the Advanced Vascular Solutions Scholarship in hopes of encouraging more students — especially women — to pursue vascular surgery and were moved by Innes-Gawn’s passion for serving others and fixing the body’s diseases with her own hands. Innes-Gawn, who speaks in awe of the first time she watched a vascular surgeon return blood flow to a patient’s legs, will now go to a combined UCF-HCA Healthcare general surgery residency in greater Orlando.

“I’m so grateful,” Innes-Gawn says. “I’m grateful for this day, for the opportunity to be an M.D., to train be a surgeon and to my donors who helped my dreams come true.”