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Becoming Spartan Doctors: Class of 2024 Begins the Next Chapter of Medicine | College of Human Medicine

May 6, 2024

Donna Tran was 19 when her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Kyle Burton was five when his grandmother started chemotherapy for a rare colon cancer and moved in with her so his mother could care for her.

Both Tran and Burton are recent graduates of the College of Human Medicine and, motivated in part by personal experience, plan to build a career helping patients and families dealing with cancer.

Their dedication is typical of the College of Human Medicine Class of 2024. Dean Aron Sousa conferred degrees May 4 on the 181 graduates, half of the new Spartan MDs will remain in Michigan.

The college had three graduates participate in the military promotion ceremony, including a Navy sailor who was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and two Army soldiers who were promoted to the rank of captain. Thirty-seven percent of the class will practice primary care, including family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics. Others will specialize in diagnostic radiology, emergency medicine, psychiatry and other areas. Everyone will go into residency in July.

In choosing a career to help cancer patients, Tran and Burton share an interest with this year’s commencement speaker, Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD. Dr. Woodruff recently served as interim president of MSU and is an internationally recognized expert in reproductive science who coined the term “oncofertility” to describe the merger of oncology and fertility preservation.

Donna Tran, a graduate of the class of 2024Tran had not considered a career in fighting cancer until after her father’s diagnosis.

Looking back, “I didn’t understand how serious it was,” she said. “No one in our family had had a brain tumor, and we had never had to navigate the health care system.”

Her father survived, but now “I want to help people who are going through what we went through,” she said.

After graduation, Tran will begin a four-year residency in psychiatry at Stanford University in her home state of California. Ultimately, she hopes to specialize in psycho-oncology, a field that combines the physical, psychological, social and behavioral aspects of cancer care for patients, their families and caregivers.

“We very often focus on the physical aspects of cancer,” overlooking the emotional needs of patients and families, Tran said. “Cancer can affect anyone of all ages and backgrounds.”

As a young child, Burton watched his grandmother bravely deal with cancer and ultimately die from it. He watched his mother, a nurse, care for her cancer patients in Sault Ste. Marie, his birthplace.

Kyle Burton, a graduate of the class of 2024“I saw the satisfaction she had in her work,” Burton said. “She’s the kind who gives her personal phone number to her patients.”

That inspired him to go into medicine, with a view ultimately to hematology/oncology. His older brother is a graduate student in analytical chemistry in California, and his younger sister is a student at Lake Superior State University. But Burton is especially proud of another sister who was born with cerebral palsy, which leaves her unable to walk without assistance.

“She is the most caring person I know, and she is enthusiastic about my brother, sister and me,” he said. “She is proud of everything we do. That has had a lasting influence on me.”

After completing his studies at the university’s Upper Peninsula Region Campus, Burton plans to return to UP following his residency in internal medicine at the University of Wisconsin. “I want to give back to the community I was raised in,” he said.

His four years of medical school gave him “a lot of hands-on experience,” he said. “I received all the training I needed to be prepared for residency. I am grateful for that.”

Tran is equally grateful. After her second year of medical school, she took a gap year to earn a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University. She interned at the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and served a term as national president of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association.

Her degree from the College of Human Medicine has deeply personal meaning, Tran said.

“I am so grateful for this opportunity,” she said. “MSU was the perfect school for me to learn and thrive. They really believe in their students. Whatever MSU does, they do it well.”