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UC College of Medicine holds its first virtual Honors Day ceremony

Medical students receive degrees from a distance in the midst of pandemic

Draped in cap and gown, Vicky Yu stood on the steps of a UC building with a smile that showed her excitement about finishing medical school as it belied her disappointment that the big day comes in the midst of a pandemic.

She and a group of friends wanted a keepsake and posing for graduation photos at the University of Cincinnati’s CARE/Crawley Building was the best memento they could take with them. Yu is one of 159 graduating medical students who would normally receive their degrees during Honors Day, which was scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, May 23. 

Instead, a virtual ceremony will go live in its place as the university has canceled all large in-person gatherings on the UC campus to help halt the spread of COVID-19. It will be marked with opening and congratulatory remarks from Andrew Filak, MD, dean of the College of Medicine, and UC President Neville Pinto, PhD. 

“It’s definitely weird,” explains Yu. “I don't think any of us spent the last four years thinking that medical school would end this way or we would graduate this way.”

“I am going into emergency medicine, and it’s kind of scary hearing stories about health care providers in heavily affected cities dying because they are on the front lines and realizing I am going to be in that position very soon,” says Yu. “It definitely makes me nervous but I know what I signed up for. I am ready for it when it comes.”

Members of the Class of 2020 shown during medical school orientation on the steps of CARE/Crawley Building four years ago.

Members of the Class of 2020 shown during medical school orientation on the steps of CARE/Crawley Building four years ago. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand.

A keynote address during the virtual ceremony will be delivered by Laura Wexler, MD, professor in the UC Department of Internal Medicine and cardiologist at Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Melissa Klein, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at UC and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's, along with fourth-year medical student Caroline Hensley will be recognized during the virtual ceremony as recipients of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award. 

A group of students have been selected to pre-record the reading of the Oath of Professionalism and the Hippocratic oath which will be played during the ceremony. All graduates were given the chance to submit photos for the ceremony and their names will be read by Aurora Bennett, MD, associate dean for student affairs in the College of Medicine.

Yu, who is visiting her family in Los Angeles, will watch online. Medical residencies typically start in July at hospitals around the nation, but Yu will avoid one of the hot spots for COVID-19 and start with Unity Health in Searcy, Arkansas, in emergency medicine. 

“The advantage of being in a smaller rural program for emergency medicine is that you usually get to do a lot more,” says Yu. “There is more improvisation and being forced to be creative because you may have fewer resources, or may not have every subspecialty available for a consult like you typically would at a huge academic center. You are forced to learn how to do things yourself which is why I applied to some programs like this.”

Vicky Yu shown in cap and gown with her dog, Momo.

Vicky Yu shown in cap and gown with her dog, Momo. Photo/Vicky Yu.

Fifty-nine medical students will do at least part of their residency in Ohio with 33 staying in Greater Cincinnati. UC Medical Center will get the largest share locally with 18 graduates followed by Cincinnati Children’s with eight, Christ Hospital with three and Good Samaritan and Jewish hospitals both getting two. A dozen students will do residency at health systems in Michigan, and nine each will do their training in Illinois, Kentucky and Texas.

Yu says the feeling of community created at UC is something she sensed from her first visit and that she will treasure it even after graduation.

“I think what really hooked me on UC was everyone was so nice on interview day,” says Yu. “I am really glad I chose UC. The staff, the faculty, they have all been very supportive throughout medical school. They had an open-door policy of ‘Please come to us when you are struggling.’ I felt like they really cared and that’s not the case everywhere you go.”

Yu says an experience that will last is the support she got from her classmates when she decided to enter a medical student talent show as a first-year student. In a previous life, Yu was an urban dancer who competed professionally.

Vicky Yu (bottom with rose) is shown with medical school classmates during a talent show put on by students.

Vicky Yu (bottom with rose) is shown with medical school classmates during a talent show put on by students. Photo/Vicky Yu.

“I used to compete with a team based in San Diego and when I came to medical school I had to leave all that behind,” says Yu. “I missed dancing so during my first year at UC I thought I’d put together a performance for the med school talent show. I rounded up nine of my classmates and choreographed a whole set.”

“My classmates were like, ‘We don’t know how to dance but if you make a routine we will learn what to do,’” says Yu. “The experience definitely tested my abilities as a leader and a teacher but they all did amazing. The set ended up being so ridiculous and so much fun.”

Featured image at top: Vicky Yu shown in her cap and gown in front of the UC College of Medicine. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand.

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