Originally published October 10, 2023 on news.fiu.edu.
Written by Ileana Varela
In 2013, the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine graduated its first class. Ten years later, many of the inaugural grads returned to FIU to reminisce about their collective leap of faith. Beginning in 2009, they entrusted their education to a new medical school that wouldn’t be fully accredited until just before they were scheduled to earn their degrees. The gamble paid off. Today, they are successful physicians in Florida and around the nation.
Dr. Michael Hann, a psychiatrist and one of the 33 inaugural grads, said part of what attracted him to FIU was the med school’s community engagement mission. “I rolled the dice and never looked back.” He is the chief medical officer of a nonprofit mental health system in Maryland.
Friday’s reunion started with a tour of their old stomping grounds, which have changed considerably since the days when they attended FIU dreaming of becoming doctors.
When the school opened in 2009, the medical school comprised only one floor in AHC2 at MMC. Eventually, other facilities were added, including a simulation center and an anatomy lab. But those, too, have changed over the years. The anatomy lab is undergoing a $5M expansion and renovation. The old auditorium-style classrooms have been turned into large, modern active-learning classrooms surrounded by giant monitors. And the small, one-room student lounge has been replaced by the newly renovated Panther Commons, where students can play ping pong and music, watch TV or chill.
“Everything is so nice. Can I go back to medical school?” joked Dr. Gillian Generoso, a primary care physician at Baptist Health in Boca Raton. “It’s amazing how everything has changed. How much it’s grown,” said former classmate Dr. Anu Kotcha, an OB/GYN in Kansas City.
Returning to campus brought back the usual memories — the long, painful nights of studying, the anxiety of test days, and the endless coffee and cafecito runs — not to mention the time they considered renting a monkey for a class party. Wisely, in the end, they didn’t.
For some of the Class of 2013 grads, it’s not the first time back on campus. Several of them, like Dr. Hanadys Ale, have maintained a close relationship with the college. Dr. Ale, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, is a faculty member. She teaches immunology to first-year FIU medical students. “It’s about giving back,” she said. “I’ve always had this sense of gratitude for the school and the community that took in this Cubanita and gave her a new home.”
Dr. Kailee Imperatore lives on Florida’s west coast, where she works as a medical examiner covering Pinellas and Pasco counties. She travels to Miami three time a year to lecture and mentor at the medical school. “Teaching is part of medicine,” she said. “It’s how the next generation learns. And it’s also fun.” She’s incredibly proud that one of her mentees, Class of 2017 grad Dr. Yanel De Los Santos, decided to follow in her footsteps and become a forensic pathologist.
At a reception in the Faculty Club, some of the school’s founding faculty members got to mingle with their former students, now colleagues. It was a proud, full-circle moment for Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, who served as the college’s first executive associate dean for Academic Affairs and still works at the College of Medicine. “We were always confident that the inaugural class of 2013 would be successful, making our FIU proud. These grads’ talents and accomplishments are certainly not a surprise.”
The day after the campus tour, 16 of the Class of 2013 grads got together again to celebrate the milestone at a dinner overlooking Biscayne Bay, trading stories about work and families and how time flies.