President Search

UF experience reinforces goal of serving others

Published: April 28th, 2009

Category: Spotlights

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Michael Tudeen

Graduating senior, health education
College of Health and Human Performance

Michael Tudeen meant to say “no duele”—it doesn’t hurt—as he tried to ease a thermometer into the 5-year-old girl’s mouth.

The girl and her mother had come to a schoolhouse serving as a doctor’s office in a mountainous corner of Honduras. As the girl wailed and squirmed, he searched for comforting Spanish words, he recalled.

“No duermo,” he said.

I don’t sleep.

Confused, the girl stopped crying and stared at Tudeen, then a high school student. She let him take her temperature.

For Tudeen, graduating this month with a bachelor’s degree in health education, his time in Honduras was the first of many efforts on behalf of others. Since then, the Gainesville native has researched public health care in Chile, built houses in Kentucky and West Virginia, befriended long-term adolescent patients at Shands Hospital, and won several academic honors.

In June, he’ll head to Mauritania, a country in western Africa, where he’ll stay for 27 months with the Peace Corps. After that, he plans to go to medical school.

“Health is one of the most tangible things you can give to someone else,” he said.

Tudeen is a 2008-2009 University Scholar and the 2009 Undergraduate of the Year in the department of health education and behavior.

In Chile, where Tudeen conducted research in 2008, he found that alternative medicine, including herbal remedies, is increasingly popular among urban residents, while rural populations tend to access the public health-care facilities more frequently.

In the U.S., Tudeen has helped with construction projects for several years through the Appalachian Service Project and observed health disparities among the poor, rural residents. Many people in the region of eastern Kentucky where he volunteered received Supplemental Security Income to help with their disabilities, but he quickly realized that just handing out medication wouldn’t solve the whole problem, he said.

“You’re only going to be able to do so much through one packet of medicine,” he said.

Tudeen has also volunteered with Shands’ Streetlight Program since its founding three years ago and has seen the program grow from 10 to 60 volunteers. He regularly visits teens with chronic or critical illnesses such as sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis. He plays Xbox and PlayStation 2 with the patients or brings books and movies to them. Most of the time, though, he just listens.

“So many of their support networks disappear when they go in the hospital,” he said.

To prepare himself for Mauritania, Tudeen is studying French and Arabic and learning whatever he can about Mauritanian culture. When he gets there, he’ll be trained as a community health agent.

“I’m not naive in thinking I’m going to change the world or anything like that,” he said.

Despite school, research and volunteering, Tudeen still finds time to hang out with friends—although he doesn’t slow down much, he said.

Tudeen said his family’s upbringing and faith as a Christian gives him a desire to help others and keeps him from worrying too much about school.

“I feel like it gives me a bigger picture about things,” he said. “I have a better perspective because of it. It definitely motivates me to serve others because I see a lot of value in the lives of other people.”

Spring 2009 Commencement Schedule

Photo credit: Kris Nichols — University Photography

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