The Class of ’98 shows off its class photo during the class reunion. Photo: Courtesy of UCLA Medical Alumni Association and members of the Class of ‘98
While Dr. Joseph Copeland may have received his MD from UCLA in 1999, after taking time off between his third and fourth years of medical school to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Botswana, he feels more at home with the students he started out with — the Class of 1998.
My class always seemed like an exceptional group of people, and I’ve been meeting with my small study group at least every five years,” Dr. Copeland says. “As we approached our 20th anniversary, it seemed like we were long overdue for a big get-together.”
Dr. Copeland started to make calls and send out emails. After many rounds of phone tag and back-and-forth emails — usually following Dr. Copeland’s long nights in the ER where he works in Vancouver, Canada — his efforts paid off in June, when nearly half of the class returned to Westwood for their platinum celebration.
The weekend kicked off for some with a tour of the Center for Advanced Surgical & Interventional Technology (CASIT), a dry lab for surgeons and trainees to practice and rehearse operations virtually, using advanced surgical simulators. During the tour, Christina Yeon, MD ’98 (RES ’01, FEL ’04), reminisced with her husband about how at one point in her medical school training, she thought about becoming a surgeon. Now a medical oncologist/hematologist for the City of Hope in Pasadena, California, Dr. Yeon says the CASIT experience was an educational highlight of the weekend. “Many of my patients have laparoscopic and/or robotic surgeries, and it was fun to touch and try these tools in the lab,” she says.
There also were tours of Geffen Hall, the new medical school building, and the Center for the Health Sciences, the old hospital and medical school building where the Class of ’98 received its training. At Geffen Hall, five current medical students guided the alumni through the school’s new state-of-the-art, computer-based, group teaching labs and lecture rooms, giving them a peek into today’s modernized medical education. “It’s clear that technology is changing many aspects of medical training, mostly for the better,” Dr. Copeland says. “At the same time, medicine remains an art with a human touch, so I’m glad to hear technology is an aid and not a substitute for patient-centered care.”
Wrapping up the day, Drew Weil, director of operations for Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, guided a small group tour of the hospital, which is celebrating its own 10-year anniversary. Construction of the facility broke ground just a year after the Class of ‘98’s graduation. Several classmates recalled touring the facility during their last gathering 10 years ago, and they were amazed by the many additions and improvements that have since been made.
The reunion’s grand finale was a farewell dinner for classmates and their families at the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center. With more than 70 guests in attendance, the greetings were endless. “Twenty years have gone by, and I still feel bonded to these people. It’s as if no time has passed at all,” said Felicia Garcia, MD ’98, who came from Maryland to attend the reunion. “It was great to hear where everybody had landed and what they had accomplished. I felt very proud to be a part of it all.”
After months of planning, Dr. Copeland reflects on the importance of coming back to campus and reconnecting with the former classmates with whom he studied. “It’s easy to get overtaken by the day-to-day challenges of career and family life,” he says. “The onslaught of work in medicine can be a little overwhelming. I think it’s important to check in with your peers and see all of the different things they are doing. For me, it’s really reaffirming. My classmates are an extraordinary group of people. UCLA took the best and the brightest and put them through a four-year crucible to become expert clinicians, educators and researchers. We’ve scattered back out in the world to do the things we were trained to do. That experience together at UCLA has marked us as members of a unique tribe. After 20 years, the bond still feels strong.”
The Class of 1998 International Heath Scholarship
In addition to gathering for their reunion weekend, Dr. Copeland and his classmates made a push to increase funding for their class’s medical education scholarship in support of global health. The Class of ’98 Scholarship in International Health was instated upon their graduation to help fund students traveling abroad on global health electives offered by the World Health Organization in conjunction with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Scholarship recipients from this past academic year, Paola Perez, MD ’18, and Monique Maher, MD ’18, talked during the reunion dinner about their experiences in Mozambique and Malawi this past spring. After hearing the new graduates’ stories and learning about the impact of these electives on the students and the communities where they worked, Dr. Anurag Relan — who, like Dr. Copeland, began with the Class of ’98 but completed his MD in ’99 after taking time for a master’s in public health — was inspired to make a contribution to the fund. “So much of where we all are today stems from the great education and experience at UCLA,” Dr. Relan (FEL ’02) said. “Donating to the scholarship fund felt like a great way to acknowledge this.”