Ten years later: College of Medicine’s trailblazing first class

Dr. Christie Alexander, Class of 2005, is now a full-time faculty member at the College of Medicine.(Photo: Colin Hackley)

When they gathered at the new Florida State University College of Medicine in 2001, the first 30 students ranged in age from 19 to 32. They came from Perry, Havana, Apalachicola, Wewahitchka. From Colombia, Iran, even Transylvania.

One had traveled around the world. One had an Arctic Survival School certificate. One had come close to death as a child. One was “poor as dirt.”

Varied though their backgrounds were, the Class of 2005 had several things in common. They were hard-wired for empathy. They respected society’s forgotten patients. Most importantly, they were willing to gamble that this new school — with its unorthodox, community-based, apprentice-style approach to medical education — would not only succeed but also be a game changer.

“I want to express how excited I am to be a part of history,” Javier Miller Jr. said in his online bio. “The first class to graduate from the first U.S. medical school founded in 20 years is a great honor. My colleagues and I are going to help change the face of medicine.”

Myra Hurt, then interim dean and director of the admissions process, had told the admissions committee to select “people who were ready to be pioneers.”

Ten years ago, 27 of those pioneers graduated (the others graduated the next year). Recently, the College of Medicine’s trailblazing Class of 2005 gathered for an alumni reunion April 10-11 in Tallahassee.

And, the group that laid the foundation for FSU’s excellent reputation among medical residency programs had a lot to reminisce about.

Maybe because this was a class of risk-takers, 10 of them practice emergency medicine. Eleven teach at least part time. Seven see mostly rural patients. Seventeen practice in Florida. And all of them helped to shape this school, an experience that now is shaping their careers.

One of those 27 graduates was Christie (Sain) Alexander, M.D., who is now a family physician at Doctors’ Memorial Medical Plaza in Perry, Fla., and a full-time faculty member at the FSU College of Medicine.

As her mom tells it, Alexander declared at age 3 — after seeing a Muppet healed on “Sesame Street” — that she’d become a doctor.

In 1999, when FSU’s med school was just a jeopardized piece of legislation, she applied to the Program in Medical Sciences. She planned to complete her first year of medical school at FSU, then transfer to the University of Florida. She believed in the PIMS philosophy of teamwork, diversity and serving the underserved. She was raring to go.

But PIMS rejected her. At first, she was crushed.

In retrospect, though, things couldn’t have turned out better. Instead of being part of the last PIMS class, she helped launch the first new U.S. medical school in roughly 20 years.

Alexander went on to practice family medicine and urgent care in Tallahassee and is now a part-time family physician in Perry. And, she earned the distinction of becoming the first College of Medicine graduate to join the faculty full time.

“I thought I was going to hang a shingle and be the Marcus Welby of the town until I retired,” said Alexander. But she discovered she wanted something more than just patient care.

In her third year of residency Daniel Van Durme, chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Rural Health, invited Alexander to consider part-time teaching. The thought of teaching straight out of residency was terrifying. But the Class of 2005’s philosophy was, “Let’s try this.” She loved it.

Now she’s assistant course director for Doctoring 2 and also teachers in Doctoring 1. She enjoys watching students’ confidence grow.

At first she wasn’t sure she had much to offer, because she had limited clinical experience.

“But as I went on in my practice, the experiential part of it fed into the teaching part,” she said. “Seeing patients in Perry has brought me back to my roots in medicine. You really have to know your skills because access to care is a challenge. There is no ‘Let’s refer you to so-and-so.’ If I don’t know something, I have to know where to go and look for it. It’s been really good for me. And really good for the students because I get to share patient stories and experiences with them.”

She praises Hurt, Associate Dean Helen Livingston, former FSU president Sandy D’Alemberte and the other hardy souls who created this school. They never budged in their belief that too few patients got the consistent medical care they needed, especially in rural and minority communities, and that an apprentice-style approach was the future of medical education.

Creating a successful medical school from scratch emboldens you, Alexander said. So she and her classmates had great expectations.

She encourages her own students to be alert to the possibilities all around them.

“Make your plans, that’s fine,” she tells them. “Just don’t be so steadfast that you close yourself off to other opportunities. Because those opportunities could be something you never would have imagined.”

Where are they now? FSU’s College of Medicine Class of 2005

Christie (Sain) Alexander, M.D.
Full-time faculty member, FSU College of Medicine Family physician, Doctors’ Memorial Medical Plaza, Perry

Kerry Bachista, M.D. Emergency physician, Georgia Emergency Physician Specialists, Memorial University Medical Center, Savannah, Georgia; part-time faculty member, UF-Jacksonville

Julie (Gladden) Barr é , M.D. Orthopedic surgeon/sports medicine fellowship-trained, First Coast Orthopedics, Orange Park

Mark Bochey, M.D. Emergency physician, La Costa Centre, Austin, Texas

David Bojan, M.D. Emergency physician, Westside Regional Medical Center, Plantation, Florida

Natosha Canty, M.D. Family physician, Capital Health Plan, Tallahassee

Garrett Chumney, M.D.
Hospitalist, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Behavioral Health Center
Emergency physician, Calhoun-Liberty Hospital, Blountstown FSU College of Medicine faculty

Laura Dacks, M.D. General surgeon, General Surgery Associates, Las Vegas

Victor Gonzalez, M.D. Assistant professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson; Member, University of Arizona Cancer Center

Shayla Gray, M.D.
Admissions for TMH Behavioral Health Center FSU College of Medicine faculty

Fawn (Grigsby) Harrison, M.D.
Pediatrician, DeSoto Memorial Hospital, Arcadia, Florida FSU College of Medicine faculty

Michael Hernandez, M.D. Hospitalist, primary care with focus in geriatrics, Memorial Hospital Jacksonville

Nariman Heshmati, M.D.
Physician partner, The Everett (Washington) Clinic, Ob-Gyn division, obstetrical section Lead/medical director, Providence Regional Medical Center Everett

Alex Ho, M.D. Emergency physician and assistant medical director of emergency services, TMH Bixler Emergency Center; FSU College of Medicine faculty

Joda Lynn, M.D. Emergency physician, Doctors’ Memorial Hospital, Perry

Ajay Mhatre, M.D.
Physician, Capital Regional Cardiology Associates, Tallahassee FSU College of Medicine faculty

Karen Miles, M.D.
Medical director and primary psychiatrist, Strategic Behavioral Center, Garner, N.C. Medical director, Hope Services, Raleigh, N.C.; Psychiatrist, Developing Minds (child, adolescent and young adult mental health psychiatry), Durham, N.C.; University of North Carolina Department of Psychiatry faculty

Javier Miller Jr., M.D.
Urologist, Florida Urology Associates, Orlando FSU College of Medicine faculty

Sarah B. (Fein) Mulkey, M.D. Assistant professor, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Pediatric Neurology

Adam Ouimet, M.D. Emergency physician, Alpine County Health Department, Markleeville, California

Sachin Parikh, M.D. Principal, Lieberman & Parikh Facial Plastic Surgery, Palo Alto

Kevin Raville, M.D. Emergency physician, Rochester (New York) General Hospital

Jason Rocha, M.D. Orthopedic trauma surgeon, Baptist Health Care, Pensacola

Neil Rodgers, M.D. Emergency physician, Lakeland Regional Medical Center

Kimberly Ruscher, M.D., Mph Pediatric surgeon, Sacred Heart Hospital of Riverbend, Springfield, Oregon

Lorna Stewart, M.D. Hospitalist, TMH Internal Medicine Hospitalist Group

Amanda Dawn Sumner, M.D. Emergency physician, Wayne Memorial Hospital, Jesup, Georgia