University of South Florida

New MD, DPT students welcomed

With diverse backgrounds and experiences, they look forward to beginning the journey toward their advanced healthcare professions together

More than 200 strong, they nearly filled the LVHN Auditorium in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine on their first day of student orientation, Monday, August 5.  They smiled and chatted and checked cells phones as they took their seats, charging the space with their energy.

USF Health leaders, faculty and staff welcomed a record number of new medical students, 177, and an incoming Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) class with more men than ever, 11 out of the 40 students.

“This is really a celebration – the first day of a new journey for each and every one of you,” said Alicia Monroe, MD, vice dean for Educational Affairs at the Morsani College of Medicine.


New USF medical students check out their appearance before getting first-year photos taken for a class composite.

The MD and DPT students plunged into the first week of orientation together and will spend much of their first year learning the basic sciences alongside one another.

“You worked hard to get here, but now the competition is over,” said Heather Hartsell, PhD, PT, associate professor in the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences.

“You will all benefit from learning to work well together with your colleagues and embrace the different perspectives you each bring to the table… because as health professionals you won’t be working in isolation.  Look to each other for support and you’ll get through the difficult times.”


Dr. Alicia Monroe, vice dean for Educational Affairs at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, welcomes the record number of students.


The first-year MD and DPT students are a diverse group, as reflected in the demographics below:


MD Class of 2017:  177 students (accepted)

–          120 CORE:   59 women (49%); 61 men (51%)

–          57 SELECT:   31 women (54%) ; 26 men (46%)

–          11% underrepresented minorities (African-American, Puerto Rican, Native American, Mexican)

DPT Class of 2016:  40 students (out of 873 applications)

–          29 women (72.5%); 11 men (27.5%)


–          Three-fourths of all the students are Florida residents; the rest came from out of state.

–          Born in 29 U.S. states, ranging from Alaska to Wisconsin, and two U.S. territories (Guam and Puerto Rico). 

–          Strong representation of international students as well.  Foreign-born DPT students are from India, Japan and Ukraine, while  the international places of birth for MD students include  Bulgaria, Egypt,  France, Ghana, Hong Kong,  Mexico, Poland, and the Republic of Moldova , to name a few.


At a “Big Sibling” lunch, second-year DPT student Ashby Bridges, left, was paired with first-year DPT student Jillian Taricsa.

Their educational backgrounds are varied.


–          While Florida universities dominate where the students did their undergraduate work, the non-Florida universities attended include such prestigious institutions as Emory, Cornell, Duke Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Tulane and UCLA.


–          MD students:  Biology and the biomedical sciences are still the primary majors, but educational backgrounds encompass a wide range of undergraduate degrees, including anthropology, business, economics, energy engineering, history, philosophy and religious studies, public health and Spanish.

–          DPT students:  Health science and exercise science dominate, but other undergraduate degrees include athletic training, biomedical science, business, kinesiology, psychology and sports medicine.

And, finally, the stories that brought them to the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine are uniquely their own.


Lto R: Mike Forster, a second-year DPT student, gives the thumbs up to first-year DPT students Chris Homes and Brian Manarte.

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New DPT student Nima Sobhani, 34, said the integration of medical and physical therapy students is something that attracted him to USF Health.  “It’s fantastic that we can draw on each other’s strengths and experiences to help make a difference in the lives of patients.”

Sobhani moved with his family from Atlanta, GA, to Iran at an early age and lived in the Middle Eastern country for 20 years before moving back to the United States. in 2000. He studied English as a second language, earned an associate degree at Hillsborough Community College, and then transferred to USF where he earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in microbiology and another in chemistry. 

Sobhani worked in a grocery store stockroom and drove a taxicab to support himself while in school and to help pay off a student loan.  He spent 120 hours shadowing physical therapists in various hospital and outpatient settings before deciding on a career in the advanced health profession.


DPT student Nima Sobhani worked in a grocery stockroom and drove a taxicab for several years to pay his way through undergraduate school.

At last week’s “fall preview” at the School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences, the new DPT students each received a backpack packed with supplies – including a stethoscope, gait belt, blood pressure monitor, reflex hammer and pen light. 

“It was a great feeling to get that gift,” Sobhani said.  “I felt like now I’m really on my way to becoming a doctor of physical therapy.”

* * *

For incoming medical student Jennifer Carrion, 23, the first official day at medical school “was like a dream come true.”


Medical student Jennifer Carrion says she wants to be a physician who cares for underserved patients.

Carrion, a first-generation Mexican American, was a young girl when her mother, Myrna DeLeon, sent her to Mexico to visit an aunt, who worked in a rural clinic.  Seeing the physicians interacting with patients, Carrion says she decided she wanted to do the same thing when she grew up. Reared in Greenacres, FL, Carrion and her younger sister Jessica worked alongside their mother in the family-owned ice cream truck, sometimes finishing their homework there.

“My mother instilled in us the value of education and hard work,” said Carrion, who earned her bachelor’s degree in microbiology and cell science at the University of Florida on a full scholarship. 

Carrion, who says she is grateful to an Orlando businessman and donor helping to pay her medical school tuition, plans to complete a scholarly concentration in health disparities during her tenure as a medical student.  Whatever physician specialty she ultimately chooses, she’s sure of one thing:  “I want to work with underserved populations, people who lack access to health care.”

* * *

Andrew Napier, 25, joined the Army National Guard right out of high school and was deployed to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009 as a combat medic, The seventh Tillman Military Scholar to join the Morsani College of Medicine, he applied and was accepted to SELECT, the college’s physician leadership program in partnership with Lehigh Valley Health Network of Allentown, PA.  


Medical student Andrew Napier, a Tillman Military Scholar, served as a combat medic in Afghanistan and was awarded a Purple Heart.

As a medic on the front lines, Napier trained, performed and taught advanced medical procedures, delivering primary care and emergency treatment to a platoon of soldiers and various NATO troops in rural Afghanistan.

During an ambush on a combat mission, Napier sustained superficial shrapnel wounds and a concussion when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded inside the truck he was riding in.  He treated an injured fellow soldier while still under enemy fire, and was later awarded a Purple Heart Medal and Combat Medical Badge.

Napier has experienced battle-tested hands-on training and already mastered some of the clinical skills he’ll be taught later in the medical school curriculum. “Now,” he said, “I’m excited about starting anatomy and physiology and gaining the  knowledge base I need to make sense of the procedures I performed as a medic,” like stopping bleeding or opening airways.

A native of Somerset, KY, Napier earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at Eastern Kentucky University last year and has served as a student veteran a policy adviser at USF.

* * *

The new MD and DPT students will celebrate with family and friends at White Coat Ceremonies marking their entry into the profession of medicine and the profession of physical therapy.

The medical students’ White Coat Ceremony will be held 1:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 16, in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom.   The physical therapy students will receive their first white coats at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 17, at the same location.

-Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications

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