MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Passionate and diverse. That’s how many are describing the new class of medical students at the University of Minnesota.

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked their interest in health care. WCCO was there as the group got their white coats, and spoke to one young man looking forward to helping others.

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The white coat ceremony is a rite of passage for medical school students. It’s a tradition Rafat Solaiman has looked forward to for years.

“Having a white coat on just shows that you’re not only committed to studying, and just learning as much as you can, but you’re committed to applying that knowledge and to take the needs of others before your own, or in addition to your own,” Solaiman said.

Solaiman learned early he wanted to help others, volunteering in hospitals and nursing homes. He also started a non-profit in high school.

“That aids underfunded and understaffed food shelves, specifically in food insecure communities,” Solaiman said.

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He’ll continue that service to others through medicine. And says the health care heroes throughout the pandemic only strengthened his resolve to become a doctor.

“It has been very inspiring too to see healthcare workers band together and work extremely difficult hours but all in the name of the patient,” Solaiman said.

He’s part of a diverse class at the university’s Medical School, with 41% identifying as multicultural, 63% female, and the majority – 80% – are Minnesota residents. Solaiman is one of the youngest at 21, having been admitted through a joint scholar program for students who are underrepresented in medicine, finishing his bachelors degree in 3 years, combined with his M.D. in 7 years.

“I’m really excited to give back, hopefully, to the community that has helped raise me and put so much into me,” Solaiman said.

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Solaiman is considering a surgical specialty. He’ll follow in the footsteps of his dad who’s a doctor in St. Peter. His brother is a fourth year medical student at the university.

Jennifer Mayerle