Freedom to pursue one’s dreams

Published: August 19th, 2016

Category: Scholarships

Claudia Smith; Sam Lipten; Michelle Zeidan; and Jean Smith

From left to right: Claudia Smith; Sam Lipten, M.D. ’16; Michelle Zeidan, MS4; and Jean Smith. Photo by Jesse S. Jones

By Tyler Francischine

The path to becoming a medical professional is often laid with many obstacles — the financial burden of medical school and subsequent student debt, to name a couple.

A 2014 recipient of the Smith Family Scholarship, Sam Lipten, M.D., graduated from the UF College of Medicine in 2016 and now interns at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard University.

The Smith Family Scholarship, established by former pediatrics department chair Dr. Richard T. Smith and his wife, Jean Smith, provides $35,000 annually to one student upon the completion of his or her second year. Lipten was selected based on his Step 1 exam scores, leadership skills, research achievements and community service, according to the selection committee. He says the scholarship gave him a sense of freedom to pursue his dreams.

“That scholarship was instrumental to me,” he says. “Like most medical students, I have a significant debt. It’s something that can weigh on you as you think about what options you have in the future. The Smith Scholarship opened up my mind to focus on my future and what I want to do instead of worrying about money.”

Lipten says his future will most likely involve a specialization in oncology, which he finds interesting for its continuous innovation and opportunities to connect with patients.

“The science is evolving so rapidly. The treatments of tomorrow will be completely different from the treatments of today,” he says. “With cancer patients, you enter into this struggle with them. You’re fighting for their life. It’s an incredible opportunity.”

Currently, he pulls 80-hour work weeks at Beth Israel as part of its internal medicine residency program. He calls the transition from medical school to residency both tough and rewarding.

“The UF College of Medicine has a national and international reputation for being great in every specialty. I knew whatever I wanted to get involved with, there would be things going on,” he says. “UF prepared me in terms of medical knowledge, but as a medical student, you don’t have final responsibility. Here, I have at least a small amount of power, and that’s kind of scary.”

As a College of Medicine student, Lipten started a journal club for first- and second-year students, in which they analyzed clinical cases from the New England Journal of Medicine. He also spearheaded the formation of Physical Exam Finding Rounds, a process by which first-year students shadow residents as they do patient physical exams.

In his limited spare time, the Casselberry, Florida, native enjoys reading the works of J.D. Salinger and John Steinbeck and listening to ’60s classic rock bands like The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones.

He says he has one piece of advice to current and prospective medical students: keep the focus on the patient.

“It sounds obvious, but you may start to worry about your grades or an exam coming up,” he says. “The last thing you must do before you leave the hospital is have a conversation with your patients or their family. It’ll give you a more satisfying experience.”