Aura Fuentes learned how one person really can make a difference during her first medical rotation at Florida Hospital.

“I thought I wanted to be a cardiologist when I got here,” Fuentes said of her first year at UCF’s College of Medicine. “But then I met a surgeon who really impressed me. Even though I didn’t know him very long, he made a huge impression on me about the impact a doctor can have on a person’s life.”

Fuentes had the opportunity to see Dr. Dmitry Nikitin, a well-known multiple organ transplant surgeon, operate and give people their lives back. But his legacy was cut short. Just a few months into Fuentes’ rotation with Nikitin’s transplant team in 2011, he was murdered.

“He was so inspiring,” Fuentes said. “He was born in Siberia and taught himself English. He was self-made. He gave so many people their lives back, and he was so very humble about it. I always remembered that during medical school.”

Fuentes, who graduates from UCF’s medical school on Friday, May 17, said Nikitin and many other doctors she met throughout medical school showed her how one person can change lives.

To learn more about the medical school’s charter class click here.

After graduation, Fuentes will begin to change lives at Orlando Regional Medical Center as she receives advanced training to be a general surgeon. She hopes to one day join an existing practice or hospital team. For now, she’s happy to be staying in Florida, close to family. Fuentes was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Dominican Republic before her family moved to Miami when she was 17

“They wanted to be sure I got a great education,” she said.

Fuentes said College of Medicine faculty members taught her about medicine, science and bedside manner, and they did much more. She said people such as surgeons Luis Herrera from M.D. Anderson Orlando and Rodrigo Alban and Matthew Lube from Orlando Health helped her learn medical skills and opened her eyes to the realities physicians face every day such as the uncertainty of how healthcare reform will change medicine, the financial implications of Medicare reimbursements, the lack of access to healthcare and poverty.

“For a while, that weighed heavily on me,” she said. “But I always remembered Dr. Nikitin and my first patient during my transplant rotation. The woman was dying and then she got a liver and she literally was brought back to life. It made me realize, all the other things, they pale in comparison with being able to help people that way. I knew this was the thing for me. I knew I wanted to make a difference too.”