With Vermont’s vaccination levels at well over 80 percent and Delta variant-related cases rising, the 124 members of the Larner College of Medicine’s medical Class of 2025 began their journeys to becoming physicians during a completely new and different academic year that started on August 9.
“This has been a challenging 18 months,” said Larner College of Medicine Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., in a video message for the Class of 2025 shared on social media. “You’ve had to negotiate applying to medical school in new and different ways, but we’ve come through it and soon, you’ll begin your medical career.”
From August 9 to 13, the first-year University of Vermont (UVM) medical students participated in Orientation – the first course of the Foundations level of the Vermont Integrated Curriculum. While the Class of 2024 medical students experienced their pre-clinical training in a hybrid format combining in-person sessions with remote learning, this year, the aim is for all pre-clinical educational activities to take place in-person.
All sessions have been in-person, with students wearing masks while indoors in UVM buildings and continuing to comply with UVM testing requirements. In a communication to the incoming future physicians, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Christa Zehle, M.D., thanked the class members “for all that you have done and continue to do to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 and to keep our community safe.”
“We have a highly motivated group of learners who also respect the need to keep themselves, and their colleagues, safe,” says Karen Lounsbury, Ph.D., director of Foundations and professor of pharmacology. “Our focus is on supporting our students and providing a safe effective learning environment.”
Students in the Class of 2025 were selected from more than 8,800 applicants and were the first class to conduct their interviews completely virtually. About a quarter of the new med students are Vermonters, 18 percent identify as LGBTQ+, and 54 percent of the class members identify as female. In addition, 23 percent of UVM’s newest medical students are people underrepresented in medicine – referred to in higher education as “URM” – a category that includes African Americans/Blacks, Hispanics/Latino(a), and Native Americans/Alaskan Natives.
Among the members of UVM’s newest medical school class are:
- Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips, who was born and raised in Baltimore City, Md., but enjoyed skiing in Vermont’s Mad River Valley growing up. A Teach for America educator in her hometown following graduation from Colby College, she was inspired by her mother – a longstanding Baltimore City public school teacher and former PeaceCorps volunteer – who demonstrated the value of commitment and duty to students and families. “In the classroom, the inequality I saw seemed almost insurmountable,” says Bazinet-Phillips. “Many of my students and families did not have access to adequate healthcare or nutrition, which directly interfered with learning,” she adds. Fueled by this experience, she decided to pursue medicine and gain expertise in the biopsychosocial determinants of health to guide her care of children and families;
- Gabriela Sarriera, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico and UVM undergraduate alum. She says she “was always intrigued by the idea of studying medicine,” but first worked in Rwanda with Agnes Binagwaho, M.D., M(Ped), Ph.D., vice chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity, in Boston with Partners In Health, and volunteering at a queer bookstore before applying to med school. The youngest of six children, Sarriera says she is “grateful to be back at UVM and excited to listen and learn from people in Vermont.”
- Justin Henningsen, who is a mandolin player, originally grew up in Brookings, S.D., and moved to Worcester, Vt. with his wife and children about four years ago. A Northern Arizona University biology major and University of Massachusetts Amherst Ph.D. recipient, he did postdoctoral research at Texas A&M. Henningsen says, “I didn’t think that medicine was the right field for me” when he was younger, but over time, he admits, “helping others in a direct way and building community have both become much more important to me.” Before coming to Larner, he taught biology, ecology, and anatomy & physiology classes at the Community College of Vermont, worked part-time at his local hospital, and shadowed physicians. That experience “convinced me that medicine was for me,” he says.
The weeklong orientation course began with a welcome from Deans Page and Zehle the morning of August 9, followed by technology-related activities, a curriculum overview, and a number of interactive sessions focused on professionalism, patient care, diversity, equity and inclusion, wellness, and community service, among other topics.
“The First Patient and Professionalism sessions were highlights because they remind students why they are in medical school and help them to throw out their self-doubt, the so-called imposter syndrome that is common among new medical students,” says Lounsbury.
The College’s emphasis on student wellness and related resources and support services has impressed Henningsen.
“Getting to know my classmates has been a real highlight of the week,” he says. “I’ve seen reassuring displays of support and positivity that makes me feel like this is an amazing cohort.”
Sarriera says she has found a sense of camaraderie, vulnerability and connection among her classmates and particularly enjoyed the “Your First Patient” session and volunteering at Burlington’s Intervale Farm.
“I’m feeling more excited than I was on Monday and inspired by my colleagues,” she admits. “Everyone has brought such a wide range of experiences and I’ve felt like I’ve learned so much from folks already.“
For Bazinet-Phillips, being in medical school has felt “surreal,” but she adds that the tension and anxiety she and classmates felt on their first day melted away as they engaged in each day’s sessions.
“The general theme of orientation week surprised me,” she says. “Most of the activities this week addressed the common barriers of effective teaching and learning in medical education. The intentionally planned dialogues dismantling common misconceptions of medical students has led to fruitful conversations and the cultivation of inclusive attitudes among peers.”
The Class of 2025’s collective energy has inspired Lounsbury. “Each individual student has a unique story, but they are bonded by a common purpose and seemed to make immediate connections with their new colleagues,” she says.
The next milestone for the Class of 2025 will be their White Coat Ceremony on October 8, 2021, when they officially receive their first white doctors’ coats.