University of South Florida

New medical students comprise most competitive class yet

Charles Lockwood, MD, (center) senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, with some members of the Class of 2022.

The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s incoming medical students donned their first white coats Friday during a ceremony at the downtown Tampa Convention Center — less than a mile from where their new 13-story medical school is rising from the ground.

The college officially welcomed 178 first-year medical students, its most impressive class yet, at the annual White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 31. These students will be among the first to inhabit the college’s new building, now under construction in Water Street Tampa, when it opens in late 2019.

The MCOM Class of 2022 is the most competitive  in the college’s history.  Of the nearly 52,000 applicants attempting to find spots in 150 allopathic medical schools this year, more than 6,000 applied to MCOM, which means that each new student’s chance of getting in was less than 4 percent.  This class attained the highest Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores on record at USF.  They also achieved the highest MCAT score in Florida, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges — with a median score in the 92nd to 93rd percentile of all undergraduates taking the exam nationally.

Dr. Lockwood addresses the new USF Health medical students.

“We are thrilled to have assembled such a brilliant group of future doctors,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and MCOM dean. “We are very proud of your academic achievements and inspired to see how you will further enrich our college and university as well as the future of medicine and health care.

“The trust and bond shared between you and your patients is one of the most powerful healing agents at your disposal – use it.  It is precisely that trust and bond that is symbolized by your new white coats.”

Dr. Lockwood introduced special guest John Couris, MS, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital (TGH), the primary teaching hospital of MCOM. TGH, a main place where USF medical students and residents obtain clinical training, was a generous contributor to the this year’s White Coat Scholarship Campaign.  Beyond covering the cost of the students’ white coats,  Dr. Lockwood said, donors from the community, faculty, student families and alumni contributed more than $163,000  toward the Class of 2022 Scholarship Fund — four times as much as was raised at the first white coat scholarship drive four years ago.

Special guest speaker John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s primary teaching partner.

The health care industry nationwide is experiencing an unprecedented amount of disruption and change, Couris said, turning to the students from the podium.  “But, innovation, and a willingness to challenge the status quo and take risks, is going to set you apart from the rest,” he said. “You are joining an organization, both at USF and TGH, that is predicated on healing, innovation and teaching.”

Among the first-year USF Health medical students at Friday’s ceremony – a milestone on their journey to becoming practicing physicians — were Tampa Orlando Hutchens and Estelle Cervantes.

Jean Fils, MD, associate professor of psychiatry, was among the MCOM faculty members presenting students with their first white coats.

Hutchens, 26, grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in Tampa. He said he learned early that “access to care and education came at a premium,” yet with a good support system of family and friends, he overcame several obstacles that made him appreciate his entry into medical school even more.  After earning his bachelor of science degree in biomedical sciences at USF in 2014, Hutchens worked several years as a clinical research coordinator and head recruiter at a clinical trials firm specializing in mental and behavioral health, and as a clinical research data specialist at Moffitt Cancer Center.

“As soon as I was accepted by USF, I decided it was where I wanted to go without considering other offers.  I was already excited about the research and volunteer opportunities, and the top-notch quality of medical education here – so the new building downtown was icing on the cake,” Hutchens said. “It’s fantastic that we’ll be pioneers in this new era of USF’s medical school and right next to TGH where we’ll spend a lot of time in our clinical years.”

Tampa Orlando Hutchens says the research and volunteer opportunities, as well as top quality education, made USF his first choice for medical school.

Cervantes, 22, who received her bachelor of arts degree in molecular biology and biochemistry with a minor in French from Rutgers University in New Jersey, had the opportunity to go to medical school in Philadelphia – but chose USF Health’s SELECT MD program.

“I really liked that USF took my research interests into consideration during the admissions interview process,” said Cervantes, who as an undergraduate research fellow studied genes in fruit fly embryos to learn more about how cells grow.

A certified emergency medical technician who volunteered with a rescue squad, Cervantes says her world view has been shaped in part by travel and hiking in more than 100 national parks. She also enjoys amateur photography focused on scenery and wildlife.

Estelle Cervantes says she and her fellow medical students are determined to make positive changes for their future patients and the health care system.

Despite challenges confronting the U.S. health care system, she is optimistically confident that her generation of physicians will make a difference in the value of care provided.

The Morsani College of Medicine Class of 2022 is a very well-rounded, diverse group of individuals who will work well together and with students in other health professions, Cervantes said.  “Because we’re all very aware that health care is not as good as it can be, we are passionate about making change that will be meaningful for our future patients, our communities, and our profession.”

The White Coat Ceremony marks a rite of passage beginning the four years of undergraduate medical education for Cervantes, Hutchens and their classmates.

Family members and friends take photos of the medical students receiving their white coats

“We’ve all dreamed for so long about becoming medical professionals and worked so hard to get into medical school. I’m very excited to share this day with my family and friends,” Cervantes said.

“The ceremony makes you realize that becoming a doctor is really a lifelong commitment,” Hutchens said, “and that’s what I’m prepared to do.”

The ceremony featured remarks from the MCOM student council president and faculty speakers, and culminated with the Class of 2022 reciting the traditional Oath of Commitment — a promise they make to the health care profession and their patients.

Kira Zwygart, MD (’98), associate dean of student affairs for MCOM, served as the master of ceremonies.

What They Said:

“It’s a rewarding road getting to medical school, but like everything in life there will be ups and downs… so support each other. Celebrate all your accomplishments together as a class and help one another through the struggles… Put your patients first and enjoy the journey together.  These will be some of the best, most difficult, and rewarding years of your life.”

Gilbert Murimwa
Fourth-year medical student
President, MCOM Student Council

“You are surrounded by a lot of very smart people. You will differentiate yourself not by how smart you are — but by your kindness.”

Karim Hanna, MD (’14)
Assistant Professor
Department of Family Medicine

“Everyone will attest to (the impressiveness of) their MCAT scores, but in these first two weeks I’ve been with this class I can say that they understand the importance of humanity.”

Deborah DeWaay, MD
Associate Dean, Undergraduate Medical Education
Morsani College of Medicine

“We want to recognize your family and friends for all the support they’ve given you in helping you get here today.  I ask you to give them a big round of applause.”

Bryan Bognar, MD, MPH
Vice Dean, Educational Affairs
Morsani College of Medicine

Less than a mile from the MCOM Class of 2022 White Coat Ceremony, the students’ new 13-story medical school is rising from the ground. They will be among the first to occupy the facility when it opens in late 2019.


MCOM Class of 2022 By the Numbers

178 incoming first-year students
women, 51% men
15%  underrepresented minorities
63% Florida residents, 37% Out-of-state

-Photos by Eric Younghans, Torie Doll and Freddie Coleman, USF Health Communications

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