As a teenager, Megan Derazin rarely felt ill, but one day she came home with a high fever.
Her mother became frantic and immediately prayed for her. She joined hands with her mother, and by her fourth word, Derazin fainted.
She woke up and told her mother everything was fine so she would not be taken to the hospital. With no medical insurance, she knew her mother couldn't afford the bill.
“I used to go to the health department, waiting four to five hours, and sometimes even being overlooked by staff,” Derazin said. “While sitting and suffering through the pain, I realized the importance and need of black medical doctors."
Derazin said she is one of five African-Americans getting their medical degrees at the UCF College of Medicine this semester. As a third-year medical student, she said she's seen a handful of classmates drop out of the program, leaving a small number of minorities to build a support group with each other.
The College of Medicine was established in 2006 in Lake Nona. According to the UCF Institutional Knowledge Management website, 455 medical degrees were awarded in the past five academic years. Only 14 of those degrees were awarded to African-American doctors.
A peak number of five degrees were awarded to African-American students in 2016. The number then decreased to two graduates in 2017 and one in 2018, according to the Institutional Knowledge Management data.
Since 2014, only one black woman has graduated per class each academic year, according to the website.
Derazin's classmate, Courtney Bell, is a second-year African-American medical student who spends most of her time with Derazin studying in their group.
“I feel as black students, we feel this weight of [our] race is on [our] shoulders,” Bell said. “Since there are so few of us, if we mess up [in the program], people may think this is why the numbers are low and that might give them reason to put judgment on us.”
Derazin said she grew up in a household where failure was not an option. She said her mother struggled to make ends meet, but always provided for her and her siblings.
After graduating high school, she moved out of her mother’s house to attend college. In 2016 she received a bachelor’s degree in biology at Howard University in Washington D.C.
Derazin said most of her peers had the same upbringing as she did, so they helped encourage each other to make it through the medical program.
She also did her clinical rotations at the Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center across from the College of Medicine in Lake Nona.
Derazin said that when at work, she is inspired by meeting black doctors in the building. She said she usually gravitates toward them because of their representation of their community, which helps relate to her experience.
UCF Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Saleh Rahman said his team has outreach programs designed to encourage students of color to finish the program.
“I think it starts from a young age,” Rahman said. “In my community outreach program, they go out and talk to African-American students, and we want them to get inspired and think, 'OK, maybe I can do this. Maybe I can try to be a doctor, too.'"
Rahman said he notices the small number of students of color in the program and hopes to find new ways to keep students engaged. He said he believes some incoming students did not have mentorship growing up to keep them disciplined, but the support of a diverse faculty and staff could change their outcome.
Derazin said she will finish the program debt-free because of a U.S. Army scholarship with an expected graduation date of May 2020. Following her graduation, Derazin said she has a contract with the Army for three years with internal medicine residency in exchange for free schooling. She said she hopes to mentor other students studying to become medical doctors and show them African-American representation in the medical field.
"When I was in need, my godsister bought me a case of water, and I told her I needed to pay her back and she said, 'Don’t pay it back, pay it forward,'" Derazin said. "That’s exactly what I’m going to do with our younger black generation."