We all know the key to living a healthy life includes eating well, exercising often, and getting a good night’s rest, among other things. But when it comes to treating illnesses, from an annoyingly persistent case of the common cold to a chronic condition such as diabetes, there isn’t one magic solution. Dr. Judith Simms-Cedan, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, understands this better than most. As a leader in the school’s interdisciplinary program, she guides the next generation of aspiring doctors, researchers, and nurses in understanding the importance of collaboration and harnessing a diverse education beyond their area of specialty – all for the purpose of treating, and potentially curing, these illnesses and chronic diseases. We sat down with her to learn more about the program, her take on integrated medicine, and the multiple hats she wears to educate our next generation of problem-solvers.
An interview with Judith Simms-Cedan, MD
Lake Nona (LN): You’re a doctor, a professor, and an incredibly active member of the non-profit health care community. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you decided to pursue a career in medicine.
Dr. Judith Simms-Cedan: I’ve always been fascinated by medicine and women’s health in particular. I think the medical field is one that automatically guides you to a specific practice based on your personality, and that’s just how I found my place as an obstetrician. I love taking care of mothers and young women, especially younger girls going through tougher challenges. I appreciate their willingness to learn and receptiveness to advice. It’s what fueled the start of my career and still does to this day.
I do wear many other hats, though. First and foremost, I lead service-learning activities and interdisciplinary studies at the UCF College of Medicine in Lake Nona. I’m also a faculty advisor at MedPACt, a student-run global health conference. I run the school’s annual mission trips to help the less fortunate in the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia, and aid in the upkeep of the KNIGHT’s Clinic at Grace Medical Home, which provides free health care services to underserved Orlando locals.
LN: You certainly do wear many hats. How did you come to take on so many
of these roles? What made you decide to teach after practicing as a doctor for so many years?
Dr. Simms-Cedan: My mother was a high school science teacher, so I guess that need to teach was always in my blood. I’ve always valued the education I’ve been given through the years and see great value in providing the same level of learning to others. There’s something incredibly powerful about asking questions, especially “why?” Teaching what I practice always seemed like a natural fit. It reminds me why I’m so passionate about what I do, but it also proves the importance of collaboration and learning from each other. My students teach me so much. There’s a great need for good education and guidance in society right now, especially through physicians. I feel that this is my time to pass that wisdom along.
LN: What brought you specifically to the UCF College of Medicine in Lake Nona?
Dr. Simms-Cedan: It was an easy decision to work at UCF. All of my interests aligned with their plans. UCF values the same hands-on, personalized style of education that I do, and gives students the opportunity to get real-life experiences. It’s very much a mentor-focused environment. I meet with students, one-on-one, on a weekly basis, and we all work together. It was, and still is, a perfect fit.
Dr. Simms-Cedan: The interdisciplinary method of teaching means students from different disciplines can collaborate and learn from each other. For example, a student who wants to be a cardiologist gets to learn their specialty, but also garners a basic understanding of other related practices, from rheumatology to ophthalmology. Our students work as teams at UCF instead of in segregated departments. It’s important that they learn to collaborate. The future of medicine is going to be very much integrated. Doctors will and are already starting to work together to cure multiple ailments in patients that are potentially caused by one underlying issue. We can’t cure without looking at the big picture. The interdisciplinary approach is essential to moving the needle on this type of health care.
LN: You’ve been teaching at UCF for many years now. What unique opportunities has the school provided you with as a professor and as the leader of service activities there?
Dr. Simms-Cedan: Oh, many things. For one, UCF has made it easy for me to partner with other faculty and students both in the classroom and beyond. They’ve also helped make it possible for me to lead groups of students – medical, nursing, pharmacy, and engineering – on annual mission trips to the Dominican Republic. This trip allows our students to not only help those less fortunate, but to put what they’ve learned into practice and get a better understanding for the comprehensive health care role. The same goes for UCF’s student-run free clinic, KNIGHTS Clinic, at Grace Medical Home. It’s another unique, service-based, interdisciplinary clinical experience opportunity for our students that I don’t think you can get elsewhere.
LN: So there are definitely some major perks to working at UCF. Are there any special benefits to working at their Lake Nona campus?
Dr. Simms-Cedan: Absolutely. We’re so close to many unique resources in Lake Nona Medical City. For one, the scientific community here promotes the same environment of collaboration that I value in education. But the facilities here make it even easier. We often partner with Nemours to host interdisciplinary meetings, gather with UF researchers to advance our studies, and are working on a partnership with VA to provide care to our nation’s veterans. It’s also great being close to the airport. That in itself makes it easy to invite guest speakers from the other side of the country, and even internationally, to give lectures at annual conferences here. Lake Nona Medical City really is the ideal place for what we’re doing.