50@50: Medical school approved in 2006

To celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary, FIU News is sharing 50 moments in FIU’s history as part of our “50@50″ series.

By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17 

Hanadys Ale arrived in the United States from Cuba in 2003 with one goal – to become a doctor.

She didn’t know English and many of the people around her suggested that Ale should perhaps pursue another profession or track, but she was undeterred.

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree in biology at FIU, she heard about the university’s efforts to establish a medical school and began following the news surrounding those efforts closely. Her dream of becoming a doctor just so happened to be running parallel with the university’s dream of opening a medical school on campus.

After graduating with her bachelor’s in biology in 2008, she applied to become part of the first class and was accepted. It marked the beginning of an exciting new journey for Ale, and moved her one step closer to the dream she held on to since arriving in the U.S.

“I was told that it was impossible for me to do medicine,” recalls Ale – now Dr. Ale. “But FIU gave me that opportunity and I will be grateful for that for the rest of my life.”

NL 1 medical school

FIU leaders and students gathered in Tallahassee to rally for the FIU medical school.

The fate of the plan to establish a medical school at FIU was placed in the hands of the 16 members of the Florida Board of Governors March 23, 2006.

After years of heavy debate and in the face of heated opposition, the Florida Board of Governors approved the creation of FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. It was a critical step, one that paved the way for the state legislature to subsequently approve funding for the medical school.


Thomas Breslin (left) and Carlos Martini (right), featured in the Fall 2004 issue of FIU Magazine, both served as ambassadors for creation of FIU’s medical school.

The vote was the culmination of a plan that was 17 years in the making. In 1989, Thomas Breslin – who was then FIU’s chief research officer – became heavily involved in efforts to establish a medical school as part of a larger plan to turn FIU into a public research university.

“Many Floridians would go out of state for medical school and wouldn’t come back because people tend to practice medicine within 250 miles of where they do their residency,” Breslin said. “Our goal was to provide much needed doctors to a well-deserving community here in South Florida.”

Under the leadership of President Emeritus Modesto A. Maidique, the proposal gained momentum in 1996 after the university developed a strategic plan titled “Reaching for the Top,” which made health education, medical education and biomedical research top priorities at FIU.

Three years after the vote, the inaugural class of medical students — which included Ale — was welcomed to campus Aug. 3, 2009, for their first day of classes.

Four years later, Ale’s dream of becoming a doctor became a reality when she joined 32 of her classmates as the first group of HWCOM graduates in a historic convocation ceremony held at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center on April 29, 2013.

A month earlier, in HWCOM’s first Match Day — which matches graduating seniors to a residency program where they will continue their medical education — Ale was matched with Miami Children’s Hospital.

Currently, Ale is finishing up her time as a senior pediatric resident at Miami Children’s and is applying for allergy and immunology fellowship positions around the country. Some of the places where she has interviewed include Johns Hopkins, Duke, Vanderbilt and many others. She intends to begin her fellowship in 2016.

“In my interviews I’m always asked about my experience as a part of that first class and I’m still getting rewards from that experience,” says Ale, who has expressed interest in coming back to FIU and helping teach immunology to medical students in the future. “Being involved with research projects, NeighborhoodHELP and so many other positive experiences really prepared me for what I’m doing now.”

This year, HWCOM welcomed its newest and largest class to date – 123 – at the annual White Coat Ceremony.

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