The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine welcomed the Class of 2024 with a virtual orientation Wednesday, beginning a new journey in what is now a new world.

The new class rendezvoused on the video communications program Zoom, and were welcomed by Associate Dean for Student Affairs Stanley Fisch and Director of Admissions Mayra Martinez.

The traditional White Coat ceremony was rescheduled for another time so that friends and family of the new medical students could attend in person.

“We want you to remember how far you have come in the admissions cycle,” Martinez said. “When you applied, there were a little over 5,000 of your peers applying with you. Out of that, there were 3,000 applications that were reviewed. From that, the admissions committee selected a little over 400 students to be interviewed. From that, only 55 students were selected to be sitting here today.

“When you feel doubts about being here, don’t. Remember those numbers because you belong here.”

The 55 students who make up the medical school’s newest class include 25 from the Valley and 17 who graduated from UTRGV. Many of the students also come from Brown University, Cornell University, Emory University, Harvard University, John Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Vanderbilt University, and many others throughout the state of Texas.

The first official roll call for medical school then took place. As their names were called, each student would unmute themselves and respond with “present” before muting themselves again.

Following the roll call, the class was symbolically presented to Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine and executive vice president for health affairs.

“I am so thrilled and so proud of all of you that you are here with us, and that over the next four years you are going to be part of one of the most unique periods in medical education that I think will ever occur,” Krouse said. “It just is an incredible time, as you all know, watching the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for us — making sure that you not only learn what you need to know about clinical medicine and how to take care of patients, but how to do so in an environment which really is very challenging.”

Following Krouse’s welcome, Fisch took a few minutes to speak directly to the new medical students.

“You are, I guess we could say, the pandemic class,” Fisch said. “The last time we had a pandemic on this scale probably was 100 years ago — the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918. … Here we are 100 years later, and specialists have predicted that we would have another pandemic, and more to come in the future. And here we are, and here you are. Let’s not waste a pandemic.”

Cesar Sevilla Jr. participated in the virtual orientation for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine Class of 2024 from his home on Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)

One of those members of the pandemic class is 38-year-old Cesar Sevilla Jr. The UTRGV graduate said that he would’ve liked to have had the orientation in person so that he could meet his colleagues, professors and advisors in person, but he understands the need for social distancing at this time.

“During this pandemic, we have to evolve and continue on the best way that we can,” Sevilla said. “I feel that medical school is actually doing a pretty good job of continuing to reach out to us and accommodate as well as they can in reference to what we need to learn right now.”

He described the virtual orientation as a unique experience, but he still appreciated being able to have the opportunity to participate in the Zoom chat and see his fellow medical students.

Sevilla graduated from O’Connell High School in Galveston in 1999. He initially went to Laredo College on a baseball scholarship before getting a job as a certified personal trainer with Gold’s Gym. It was that job that led him to the Valley in 2007.

He said that the majority of his clients were in the medical field, but one of his biggest influences was his father who’s an orthopedic surgeon.

“I was exposed to medicine ever since I was a kid — my whole life,” Sevilla said. “My very first experience I had was when my dad invited me when I was 6-years-old to dissect a human leg that he had amputated. I’m sure that was a way for my dad just to see if I had inherited his doctor genes.”

Sevilla said that he intends to pursue a career in pediatric orthopedics because he loves kids, but he will always remember his first experience with his father as a child.

“I still remember, without any question, I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go,” Sevilla recalled. “That was my first anatomy lesson. I just fell in love with medicine.”