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Graduating student spotlight: Nutritional sciences student sets sight on medical school

Sandy Hegeman is an academic at heart, a survivor and leader by nature, and plans to be a doctor by trade — just give her four years.

The nutritional sciences senior is graduating this spring, with plans to attend medical school at the University of Florida this fall. While her aspirations are currently in the medical field, they did not lean that direction until she was 12 years old.

Hegeman was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) when she was 12 and spent much of her next two years being treated, including receiving a bone marrow transplant. The time she spent with doctors in the hospital showed Hegeman that a career as a doctor may be just the place for her.

“I’ve been through some crazy stuff,” she said. “I think it’s important for doctors to have empathy for their patients, and my experience with AML gives me, allows me the chance to relate to those patients.”

Hegeman presents her research at the UF Undergrad Research Symposium.

Since then, Hegeman has had a one-track mind to become a doctor. She currently plans to become a pediatric oncologist, but she recognizes her specialty as a doctor may change in the next few years.

“Since I was sick, I’ve had it in my head that I want to be a doctor,” Hegeman said. “I chose nutrition as a major because they don’t teach in-depth nutrition in a lot of medical schools. Nutrition is so important for your health, and I think that was a great way to learn about the body and prepare me for medical school.”

Hegeman has made the most of her time as a nutritional sciences student in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). Beyond her classroom studies, she has served as a biochemistry student instructor, assisted with research in the Cancer/Genetics Research Complex, volunteered with UF Dream Team and led Alpha Zeta as part of their executive board.

Sandy Hegeman at her Alpha Zeta initiation.

“I’m an academic at heart, so I love learning and spent a lot of time at the library,” she said. “But I loved being a student instructor. I got to teach my own classes in biochemistry. When I understand something, I want to tell everyone about it, so it was a great experience.”

Hegeman also believes her leadership experiences through Alpha Zeta have prepared her to be a better doctor.

“Being vice president of Alpha Zeta is one of my favorite memories,” she said. “It helped me learn how to make decisions and think about how others will be affected by it. It also taught me a lot about compromising and showed me that compromise is always possible, as long as everyone will listen to each other.”

Hegeman’s love for being a Gator and transcends beyond her classroom and student organization involvement. In fact, one of her favorite things to do is admire the beauty the University of Florida has to offer. She could be found laying on a blanket in the Plaza of the Americas, spending her hours at Library West or hanging out by Lake Alice and the Field and Fork farm and gardens.

“There is not a single part about UF that I can complain about,” Hegeman said. “There are not enough words to describe the amazing experiences as a Gator.”

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