Brandon Barger speaking at commencement
May 31, 2024

Class of 2024 Graduates from the UCR SOM

66 medical students received their degrees in the ceremony

Author: Erika Klein
May 31, 2024

The UCR School of Medicine class of 2024 began their medical school journey online during the COVID-19 pandemic, but finished it on Friday surrounded by cheering family and friends.

66 students received their degrees in the ceremony, which was held on May 31, 2024 in the Student Recreation Center on UCR’s campus.

Deborah Deas, MD, MPH, the vice chancellor for health sciences and the Mark and Pam Rubin dean of the School of Medicine, highlighted the class’s unprecedented path in her opening remarks during the ceremony. “I could never have predicted the challenges you would face nor the necessary changes we would make to prevent disruption in your medical education,” Deas said, noting that the students took their first medical school classes via Zoom and had their White Coat Ceremony delayed by a year. “During the past four years, you demonstrated ingenuity, resilience and adaptability,” she continued. “Your class will be forever recognized as the most pioneering class in our school’s history--the class that bravely and successfully navigated uncharted territory.”

Crowdshot at graduation 2024

Deas commended the students’ persistence in successfully earning their MDs and thanked their family and friends for their support throughout their medical school journey. “I’m sure that your family, friends, and loved ones who are here today would agree that this moment beautifully embodies the ‘better tomorrow’ we all hoped for four years ago,” she said. “We are all truly delighted that we can come together to celebrate your achievements and to welcome you into the medical community as physicians.”

The class of 2024 upholds the SOM’s mission to increase access to medical care in Inland Southern California, with 26% of the class staying in the Inland Empire and 43% in Southern California for their residency training, their next step toward becoming physicians. In addition, 81% of the class will enter primary care specialties and other specialty areas that are lacking in the Inland Empire, specifically family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and general surgery.

“This is a remarkable outcome,” said Deas.

Elizabeth Celaya-Ojeda at commencement
Elizabeth Celaya-Ojeda, class of 2024

Elizabeth Celaya-Ojeda, who matched into residency at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center, plans to specialize in family medicine in the local area. “I still wanted to stay in the Inland Empire through my training just because this is the place that’s raised me, this is the place that's allowed me to be a doctor, and so I want to continue to be here,” said Celaya-Ojeda, who grew up in Covina and has family in Riverside. She received an Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP) scholarship that covered four years of medical school tuition in exchange for her practicing for five years in the Inland Empire. “I'll probably still stay here afterwards more than five years,” Celaya-Ojeda said.

Keynote speaker David Rubin, MD, MSCE, executive vice president of University of California Health, touched on the hurdles the class has overcome and emphasized the importance of community in his address.

Dr. David Rubin
Keynote speaker David Rubin, MD, MSCE

“Today, you join a community of physicians profoundly impacted by a world that is hurting… Never doubt the impact you can have, and take heart in knowing that you are not alone,” he said. “That community-based approach that you are steeped in from your time at UC Riverside will carry you forward in a way that helps keep you connected.” The ninth chancellor of UC Riverside, Kim A. Wilcox, also spoke.

Inland Empire native Branden Barger, pictured at the top of the page, addressed the audience as the class’s student speaker, also focusing on community and the deep connections that the class formed during medical school. “What we experienced together – circumstances we could have never imagined when we dreamed of going to medical school – now bind us together even more tightly,” Barger said. He called for the new physicians to continue to foster community by supporting each other in their medical careers, and by supporting and mentoring future doctors as well. “You all know…the many sacrifices that your support networks have made to make this dream a reality, and it is because of that knowledge, and your perpetual commitment to honoring that, that makes each of us stronger, more capable, more caring, more empathetic physicians,” he said. “Therein lies the truth of our success. It’s community; it’s support; it’s love.”

“[Today] has been a long time coming,” said Brook Yirgu, class of 2024. Yirgu grew up in Inglewood before attending high school in Riverside. “Being able to grow up in this region then also actually serve the community that I grew up in, I think is an invaluable experience,” said Yirgu, who will enter UCLA’s internal medicine residency program. “Ultimately, serving underserved communities is the main goal of mine, and if I can do it locally, I'll be that much happier.”