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Meet the Class of 2023

July 1, 2019

As its inaugural class marches toward graduation in May 2020, Dell Medical School is again welcoming new students.

The Class of 2023 includes a former merchant mariner, an ex-math teacher and a Harvard alum and English major who’s shelving her study of the literary canon but not her pursuit of fiction-writing. Chosen from 5,141 applicants, its members range in age from 20 to 36. Fifty-eight percent are women, and about 1 in 5 identify with a race or ethnicity underrepresented in medicine.

Their arrival is a mark of maturation for the school, which is now training students across all four years of its signature curriculum. In Year 4 — the Exploration Year — students examine career interests and continue to build advanced clinical skills through electives, rotations and internships while also completing a capstone transition-to-residency experience. Years 2 and 3 are dedicated to Delivery and Growth, respectively. And the first year is focused on learning scientific principles, or the Essentials — an experience starting today for 50 students.

Here are six of them.

Headshots of incoming students Blake Smith, Michelle Raji and John Harman.

From left: Blake Smith, Michelle Raji and John Harman

From Math to Medicine

Name: Blake Smith
Hometown: Baytown, Texas
Education: Texas A&M University | B.S., Biomedical Engineering
Scholarship: Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Scholarship

A year ago, Blake Smith was a high school math teacher. But medicine — informed by his personal experience with the benefits of mental health support — was always the goal for Smith, 23. “My family was impacted by mental health complications and drug addiction,” the Aggie-turned-Longhorn says. “This influenced me to want to address these issues in my community.”

Why Dell Medical School?

Dell Med is appealing to me because its priorities are in the right order. It puts better outcomes for patients first and lets this guide how the school is operated. This has allowed the school to make innovative changes to how it educates its students. I am excited to be a part of a school that cares enough about its community to make brave steps to improve the education of its future doctors.

What’s your motto, mantra or slogan?

The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.

On Stargazing & Human Potential

Name: Michelle Raji
Hometown: League City, Texas
Education: Harvard College | B.A., English
Scholarship: Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Scholarship

Michelle Raji brings a writer’s capacity for introspection to her reflections on what drew her to medical school. “Medicine is a realization of my desire to help people that is probably based on pleasure,” Raji, 23, says. “But I have a separate interest in human potential. There is so much suffering in the world. I know we can do so much better. What motivates me in this has less to do with personal gratification and more to do with a sort of stargazing wonder/vertigo.”

Why Dell Medical School?

I like that I can explore interests outside the realm of medicine and traditional academic research, probably more so than at any other medical school. Other schools have exploratory project or research years, but none really compare to Dell Med’s Growth Year. Being part of a new (and small) medical school is also really exciting. I really got the feeling that students have power to shape its culture and practices.

Who’s your hero?

I heroize a lot of writers, especially Black women writers. I just read the posthumously published short stories and diary of multi-hyphenate filmmaker Kathleen Collins. She writes such attentive and culturally prophetic fiction that’s equally familiar and strange. She’s like a big sister from another time period. What I admire most about her as a person is she lived her life unapologetically.

Physician, Heal Thy Ship

Name: John Harman
Hometown: Garland, Texas
Education: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy | B.S., Marine Engineering Systems; Massachusetts Institute of Technology | M.S., Transportation
Scholarship: Lt. Col. Harold Elder Endowed Scholarship

John Harman is becoming a doctor because he broke his leg. Eager to give back to the classmates who supported him through his first, difficult year at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Harman, 34, joined the campus emergency medical team and discovered an interest in medicine. First, though, he fulfilled his service obligation by working as a chief engineer on offshore supply vessels, where he was responsible for troubleshooting mechanical and electrical failures — what he calls “shipboard pathogens.”

Dell Medical School aspires to make Austin a model healthy city. In the interest of that, what’s one thing you think needs to be tackled?

We have to develop trust between health care providers and the general population. A successful system is only achievable when providers work together with all parties toward that common goal. One reason I love Dell Med so much is that its leaders are focused on improving health, not just health care: The school is looking at health from many angles and places a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary cooperation. I believe that these are the kinds of initiatives that will improve patient-provider relationships and restore trust in the system.

What’s your motto, mantra or slogan?

I’ve gratefully adopted Nike’s motto, “Just do it.” I believe that the key to success is perseverance, that the key to perseverance is establishing a solid routine and that the hardest part of developing a routine is simply getting started.

Headshots of incoming students Mavis Coffman, Joshua Cummings and Micah Secor.

From left: Mavis Coffman, Joshua Cummings and Micah Secor

The Patient’s Perspective

Name: Mavis Coffman
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Education: University of Missouri, Columbia | BHS, Public Health
Scholarship: Broadway Bank Scholarship

A rare heart and vascular defect caused Mavis Coffman to have trouble breathing and swallowing as a child. Getting to a diagnosis was difficult and gave Coffman, now 22, insight into the health care system that sparked her interest in becoming not only a physician, but an advocate.

What motivates you?

Finding solutions to community problems and figuring out how to implement them. I am excited by the idea of healing whole communities as well as individuals.

Who’s your hero?

My hero is Joycelyn Elders, surgeon general from 1993-94. She advocated for access to sexual health education when it was very controversial. She was always honest and brave when standing up for what she knew was right. This ultimately cost her her career, but she did not let this silence her. I want to have the same courage to stand for what I believe in.

A Football & A Stethoscope

Name: Joshua Cummings
Hometown: Plano, Texas
Education: Rice University | B.A., Psychology
Scholarship: University Federal Credit Union Scholarship

Joshua Cummings draws a straight line from collegiate football to medical school. The 22-year-old former defensive back for the Rice Owls credits his time on the field with the personal characteristics of perseverance, ambition and creativity — the same characteristics he expects to draw on as he pursues a career in medicine.

What motivates you?

At my core, two things drive me to excel: my internal level of competitiveness and a drive to change decades of health disparities in my community.

If you could cure one disease, which one would you choose and why?

Hypertension: It disproportionately impacts minority communities and takes far too many lives. It is something we have the answers to but can’t seem to fix.

A World Traveler, Back Home

Name: Micah Secor
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Education: University of Arizona | B.S., Neuroscience & Cognitive Science; B.S., Physiology
Scholarship: Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Scholarship

From assisting with research in the Czech Republic to moving to Australia to work with children, Micah Secor brings a world of experience to the start of her medical training. That’s deliberate: “I tried my best to meet the expectations of a pre-med student without being a cookie-cutter applicant,” Secor, 23, says. “The activities I participated in were genuinely things that I wanted to do, not what I thought schools would like to see.”

What motivates you?

I’m driven by my desire to help others. It’s the biggest cliché in medicine, but it’s the truth. Every student, in any school, has put in years of hard work just to get to this point. We have individual aspirations, but it all boils down to helping others.

Why Dell Medical School?

There aren’t statistics to say that we will be successful. There aren’t generations of students before us. These are facts that scare many people, but they never made me reconsider. On the contrary, they are the reasons that I chose Dell Med.

In order to change health care, you need a new point of view, free of the constraints of tradition. Dell Medical School offers endless possibilities because it is a new medical school under the umbrella of one of the oldest universities in Texas. It has ample resources, a supportive community and students who aren’t scared to take a chance.