Julia Shariff standing in front of the Medical College of Wisconsin building sign

First Class: UW-Green Bay and MCW Green Bay grad can’t wait to begin ‘paying it forward’ in her hometown

Julia Shariff in cap and gown at graduation

Julia Shariff on graduation day

“Surreal” and “emotional” are words used by newly titled, Dr. Julia Shariff as she described her graduation ceremony from the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) Green Bay campus in June of 2018.

Shariff is the first UW-Green Bay graduate to be accepted into the newly formed medical college; and a member of the first class of graduates from the MCW Green Bay campus. For this Green Bay native, the ceremony represents the culmination of years of hard work, perseverance and unfaltering campus and community support.

Now she’s one step closer to returning the favor and caring for those who have unselfishly supported her.

The best decision

Julia’s senior year at Southwest High School in Green Bay piqued her interest in medicine. Nearing graduation, she toured a number of colleges throughout the state, including UW-Green Bay. “It just clicked,” says Shariff, “I felt really comfortable,” and she learned that the Human Biology program would help her explore her options in medicine — whether as a pre-med student or another path. It felt like home.

Upon enrolling at UW-Green Bay, her enthusiasm for Human Biology, including the classes and encouragement from professors drove her to take the pre-med path. “Once I started, I realized how strong the department was,” says Shariff. “They provided the classes and tools available for pre-med students, and a tremendous amount of academic support.” Passionate, hands-on professors, who are dedicated to their students created a learning environment that helped Shariff thrive.

Reflecting on her years at UW-Green Bay, it clearly was “…one of the best decisions I’ve made, academically.”

New campus, hometown support

As Julia neared her final semesters at UW-Green Bay, the Medical College of Wisconsin was finalizing their plans to partner with both UW-Green Bay and St. Norbert College for their satellite campus, housed at the St. Norbert College campus in De Pere. Shariff explored a number of medical school options in the Midwest and the east coast and decided to interview with the brand new MCW-Green Bay campus. The pull of her hometown, and most importantly the support she would receive while enduring the rigors of medical school, made the decision to explore this new, local option an easy one. When her acceptance letter from MCW-Green Bay arrived, she knew she had made another excellent choice. Having her grandfather, Faculty Emeritus Ismail Shariff (Economics) on campus, couldn’t hurt. (See the feature on Prof, Shariff and his legacy at UWGB).

Julia Shariff with Bellin's Bart Miller in Spring 2015

Julia Shariff with Bellin’s Bart Miller in Spring 2015

Being a part of the inaugural class of this brand-new regional medical school, Julia was both excited and nervous. A new environment, a brand-new program…she wasn’t sure how things would go and yet knew she and her new classmates would make the program their own. She credits her outstanding academic preparation from UW-Green Bay for making her feel confident in those first weeks and months at MCW-Green Bay. “You’re never fully prepared for the workload (of medical school,)” says Shariff. “But I felt very prepared academically.”

In fact, one of the most enjoyable parts of medical school at the MCW Green Bay campus was its “newness.” Shariff enjoyed the influence that her inaugural class had on the campus. “We really had to take the reins and help to create the campus from the ground up,” she says. Providing feedback, creating student organizations and creating an atmosphere of support for classmates and families was a large part of her medical school experience. “As one speaker said at graduation, ‘we experienced life together’ and that bonds you, especially during the difficult times.”

The supportive atmosphere helped students succeed. At the spring matching ceremony, where each final-year medical student is “matched” with the hospital where they will do their residency, all students were successfully matched. 100%. Not bad for a completely new medical school in a sports-crazy Northeast Wisconsin town.

Rooted in Wisconsin

In July, Julia begins her three-year residency program at Gunderson Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse, with focus in internal medicine. “I have always believed that life presents itself to you and shows you your path in different ways,” says Shariff, and she remains open to the possibilities that her medical career may provide. The program at Gunderson offers flexibility to explore the many different medical specialties, which allows Shariff to keep her options open. She has already considered a fellowship in endocrinology, which would be another 2-4 years.

Regardless of her final choice, she definitely wants to stay in the area. “We are very aware of the physician shortage in our state,” states Shariff, and hopes her and her classmates will have an impact on that shortage. All graduates from the MCW-Green Bay campus are completing their residency programs either in the state of Wisconsin or the near Midwest region. “I honestly wouldn’t trade the support and education that I’ve had for anything, and wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of people from UW-Green Bay and MCW and the Green Bay community,” says Shariff. “I feel a big responsibility to pay it forward to both campuses and hopefully can come back and thank people for the support that I’ve received.”

She’s already begun. When asked about advice that she’d give to all students as they make decisions on what to do after high school; “Be open to be inspired,” says Shariff, “the capacity of your mind and resilience is so much more than we think it is, and we can be our worst enemy. If you think for one second, ‘I think I can do this,’ hold onto that thought. That’s so much more powerful than anything else.”

Story by Kristin Bouchard ’93. Photos submitted by MCW Green Bay