On the night of Aug. 5, the 104 members of the UC Irvine School of Medicine class of 2015 received their first physician’s white coat, welcoming them into the medical community.
This ceremony marked these students’ first steps on the shared road to becoming doctors. The individual paths that brought them to this juncture, however, differ significantly.
“Our students come with a wide variety of life experiences, talents and backgrounds,” says Ellena Peterson, associate dean of admissions & outreach for the School of Medicine.
“Every class is composed of athletes, musicians, dancers, journalists, community activists, artists, leaders and teachers. We believe each one will enrich the experience of his or her classmates, professors and future patients.”
Melody Besharati personifies this diversity. She earned a bachelor’s in music performance at UCI this spring but has always been attracted to a career in medicine. “I love science, and I love the arts,” she says, “and when I came to UCI, I wanted to explore both to experience what they’re all about.”
Between demanding practice sessions and recitals, Besharati became involved with Music to Heal, an organization founded by UCI medical student Matt Fradkin to provide musical therapy programs and support for pediatric patients.
Her crowning achievement to date is creating the Jam Station, a mobile music cart holding a guitar, bass, keyboard, digital drum set, mini amps, microphones and a silent rehearsal mixer that allows for bedside group performances. Besharati has built five so far, with one stationed at CHOC Children’s Hospital, in Orange.
“I’m excited to start medical school at UCI so I can continue with Music to Heal,” she says. “It feels so natural to use my musical ability to aid patients.”
While Besharati entered UCI as an undergraduate driven to succeed, incoming medical student Ryan Murphy found himself, a decade ago, a college dropout and new father. After gaining sole custody of his son, Sean, he moved back to his parents’ home in San Diego.
“I knew I had to care for Sean, and I knew I had to do something with my life,” Murphy says.
He got a job at Goodwill and was attending a local community college when an emergency medical technician course sparked his interest in becoming a paramedic. Murphy landed work as an EMT but quit to enroll full time at UC San Diego to pursue his next goal: becoming a doctor.
To make ends meet, Murphy worked part time at La Jolla’s Scripps Green Hospital; he also volunteered to teach first aid and CPR at a residential drug and alcohol rehab center.
Despite 12-hour days spent on the job, in class and in the lab, Murphy still found time to coach Sean’s soccer and Little League baseball teams.
“Everything I did, I did for Sean,” he says. “Considering where I was 10 years ago, I feel like a different person. Everything changed with the birth of my son.”
Sean, who will live with his grandparents during his father’s first year of medical school, stood proudly next to him at the White Coat Ceremony.
“I’m grateful to be at UCI; it feels like the right place,” says Murphy, now 29. “When Sean and I drove up this spring for a visit, he said, for the first time, ‘I really want you to be a doctor.’ So I know I’m doing the right thing.”
One of his stops as an EMT was the San Ysidro Health Center, which provides care to low-income residents along the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s a facility quite familiar to new UCI medical student Karla Lozano, who has been a patient, volunteer and health educator there.
Born in Tijuana, she was 13 when her parents immigrated to the U.S. so that she and her younger brother could receive a better education. Settling in nearby San Ysidro, Enrique and Rosa Maria Lozano found work as currency exchange cashiers but could only afford to rent a studio apartment for the family of four.
“It was hard for me,” Karla Lozano says. “I had no privacy.”
Despite the challenges, she thrived in high school and was accepted at UC San Diego. Lozano rode the trolley north each day to the lush La Jolla campus, where she discovered a passion for biology.
After earning a bachelor’s, she worked at the San Ysidro Health Center for two years as a health educator, helping poor Latinos — many of whom lacked insurance and spoke little English — navigate the maze of state and federal paperwork required for treatment.
“I’ve been in their shoes, and I know their frustrations,” Lozano says. “It’s not an efficient system.” Still, seeing how the clinic served as a vital community safety net cemented her decision to become a doctor.
At UCI, she’ll enter the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community, which trains future physicians and public health leaders to address the distinct needs of America’s fastest-growing ethnic group.
“One reason I’m with PRIME-LC is to try to improve the healthcare system,” Lozano says. “I want it to be more responsive and effective. I know this will be tough to do, but I’m part of a group of people who all want to make a difference.”