FEATURE | Posted Aug. 20, 2014

New students bring unique life experiences and a passion to serve

UC Davis School of Medicine welcomes its Class of 2018

Seven years ago, Thomas Cranmer was serving his country as a Navy SEAL, helping injured platoon members who were hit by gunfire during an ambush in Ramadi, Iraq. On July 31, he and 109 other students put on white coats and received their stethoscopes during a special Induction Ceremony that welcomed them to UC Davis School of Medicine's Class of 2018.

At 38, Cranmer isn’t quite the traditional first-year medical student. But like his new classmates, he brings unique life experiences and a passion for helping others to his new mission: to become a physician.

“Throughout my 14-year career as a SEAL, I received training in combat casualty care,” said Cranmer, who grew up in Los Angeles and joined the Navy at age 23. “But it wasn’t until I witnessed how doctors healed others that I realized I wanted to do this work. I wanted to help heal others just as the doctors at the hospital at Camp Ramadi healed my men.”

Following his deployment to Iraq, Cranmer began taking night classes at a community college and volunteered at a local hospital to bolster his chance of earning admission to medical school. Married for 10 years and the father of three, Cranmer still has a passion for service and plans to work as a physician for the U.S. Navy or Department of Veterans Affairs when he graduates.

Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cranmer

According to Frank Sousa, the school’s assistant dean for admissions and student development, Cranmer’s route to medical school might not be too common, but his leadership abilities, compassion and outstanding character are common traits among UC Davis medical students.

“We look for students with the attributes of good physicians and great people,” said Sousa. “Our medical students reflect the diversity of California and the qualities and capabilities that every physician must possess to be able to provide quality care for patients.”

Nancy Rivera, a student from Modesto, Calif., is another member of the Class of 2018 whose journey to becoming a physician-in-training has been impressive. As early as middle school, she began serving as an interpreter for her parents, who were immigrants from Mexico, when they had medical appointments.

“My parents worked their doctors’ appointments around my school schedule so I could be there to translate for them,” said Rivera, who learned at an early age that language and culture can pose barriers in the world of medicine and health care.

A top student in high school, Rivera is the first in her family born in the U.S. to attend college and pursue a professional degree. While earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at UC Davis, she volunteered at Clínica Tepati in Sacramento, one of the free community health clinics run by the university’s medical students and undergraduates. Rivera’s volunteer work and dedication to community health led to a “Sí Se Puede” (“Yes It Can Be Done") Scholarship from the Latino Medical Student Association–West in 2013.

“I volunteered at Tepati for almost seven years,” said Rivera, who eventually taught classes in Spanish for patients who needed help managing their diabetes but weren’t conversant in English. “I have a passion for service and medicine provides that platform.”

Nancy Rivera
Nancy Rivera

Rivera’s interest in serving her community also is reflected in the curriculum she has chosen: a specialized School of Medicine program called San Joaquin Valley PRIME (Program in Medical Education), in which medical students specifically focus on health care in California’s Central Valley, one of the more economically disadvantaged and medically underserved regions in the state.

For Rivera, the university’s commitment to helping others meant that UC Davis School of Medicine was always her first choice for a career in medicine.

“It provides a great sense of community, which I know will help me succeed in medical school,” Rivera said.

Rivera and Cranmer were among more than 6,000 people who applied to the School of Medicine last year. The school interviewed about 500 applicants before settling on the final 110. About 40 percent of the school’s first-year students are from communities that have long been underrepresented in medicine and often struggled with access to quality health care. For future physicians like Nancy Rivera and Thomas Cranmer, UC Davis School of Medicine is the ideal place to build upon unique life experiences and a passion to help others.

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at medschool.ucdavis.edu.