Passion for Global Health Drives SFSC Alumnus
Ever since he can remember, former South Florida State College (SFSC) student Bobby Palmer has wanted to be a doctor. As a fourth-year medical student at the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) College of Medicine, Palmer is preparing for the next big step towards his dream career.
After graduating with the second class of medical students from UCF on May 16, he’ll begin his residency in orthopedic surgery at the University Of Florida’s College Of Medicine in Jacksonville. Palmer will spend the next five years training to become a full-fledged practitioner.
As a little boy, Palmer recalls playing doctor and always knowing that when he grew up he wanted to help heal people. At the suggestion of his mom, he decided to shadow several doctors and gain exposure to the experiences he would face in the medical field when he was only in middle school.
“I’m so appreciative for the experiences I have received,” Palmer said. “My family has always been a big advocate for me and pushed me to succeed. Given the summers I spent working in my grandfather’s hardware store and shadowing at my dad’s electric and air conditioning company, I think it was inevitable that I would end up in a surgical field that uses power tools,” he said, laughing. “I’m of the belief that life is motion. Thus, a field where you can relieve pain and restore motion is perfect for me. I enjoy orthopedics because you can definitively fix a problem, and I find that rewarding.”
Palmer started his college education as a dual enrollment student at SFSC and was beyond thankful for the opportunity. “Since the high school didn’t provide advanced placement courses at the time I was a student, I was able to take them at the college,” he said. “SFSC gave me the opportunity to take course work in Biology I and II, anatomy and physiology, and psychology. These classes served two purposes. They reinforced my desire to pursue a career in medicine and prepared me for the rigorous pre-med course load that I would undergo during undergrad at Wake Forest.”
“To be immersed in a richly diverse atmosphere of students and faculty at SFSC prepared me to be a better physician,” Palmer said. “I also loved the fact that I was able to continue my education with my hometown friends.”
After graduating from high school, Palmer attended Wake Forest University (WFU) where he received his Bachelor of Arts in chemistry. He then set out to pursue his education to ward a profession that would blend his love of working directly with people with his passion for research.
He chose to attend medical school at UCF because of its new facilities and fresh innovative program. Palmer said the only rule they have had as students was to reach for the stars and UCF was the perfect place for him to leave his foot print.
Palmers’ passion for medicine was inspired in large part by the death of his father, Mark Palmer, from a heart attack. Rather than letting his father’s death defeat him, Palmer drew strength from his challenges, gaining insights into the power of empathy and the importance of faith in medical care. He decided to focus his efforts on fighting back against the disease and hopes to one day improve health education and preventive health so that others may avoid the pain of losing a loved one prematurely.
“My dad supported my aspirations indirectly,” Palmer said. “I say this because he didn’t have ties to medicine and was a small business owner. His personality, namely his patience and outgoing attitude, have played a big part in my ability to connect with my patients which is essential to delivering optimal care.”
In pursuit of his dreams to become a doctor, Palmer not only immersed himself in the classroom and hospitals, but he has reached out to make a difference in communities around the world. With the support of two scholarships to study abroad, he studied Spanish phonetics at the Universidad de Granada in Granada, Spain, and examined Latin American studies at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago, Chile.
“I have always found volunteering, whether in Highlands County or abroad, extremely rewarding,” Palmer said. “While an undergrad, I wrote a paper on the economic policies of Chile which sparked my desire to visit. Fortunately, I was awarded the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and spent nine months abroad after graduating from WFU. During that time, an 8.8 earthquake hit near Concepcion, Chile, and left many surrounding villages devastated. A Chilean friend of mine organized an international group of volunteers to help one of the villages, Los Coipos, and I jumped at the opportunity. Working in international settings carries an added bonus given there are many cultural nuances to explore, which I find fascinating.”
As a previous executive director and current member for the UCF College of Medicine Global Health Organization, Palmer has gained valuable experience toward a career in global health. He had a transformative experience when he was able to participate in three short-term medical outreach trips to Jarabacoa and San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Republic. Their annual trip led him into the rural hillsides with small villages and people struggling with their health. He had the responsibility of planning the inaugural trip and was there to raise medical awareness among the villagers and help them manage their illness and prevent its spread.
Palmer has been committed to working both here and in undeveloped countries to figure out how to make sure that people can have the access to care that we take for granted. He has especially focused on the importance of physicians building empathetic, healing relationships with their patients in the developing world, where, he says access to care may be hampered by additional economic, social, and cultural factors.
Although he said it was well worth the effort, Palmer didn’t shy away from telling students how difficult it is to become a doctor. “You have to be passionate to go into this field, or else it would be difficult to make it through,” he said. “The amount of studying in medical school is unparalleled to anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Palmer is not sure where his future will lead him but he is fully prepared to discover humanity. One day he hopes to return and open his own practice in Avon Park near his family. “I can’t wait to start making an impact in the health care industry,” Palmer said. “I want to improve the quality and access of health care for everyone.”
Using the gifts that God has given Palmer to help others is what excites him most and attracts him to the medical field. “I’m incredibly thankful that He has brought me this far, and I look forward to growing through the challenges that lay ahead.”