Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy Draws Rave Reviews

For the past year and a half, 17-year-old Marco Turner mulled the idea of becoming a veterinarian. Originally from the Bahamas, he had volunteered in a veterinarian’s office, where he helped nurse the community’s pets back to health, and then began researching opportunities that would help further his career in veterinary medicine.

Enter the St. George’s University Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy, which has welcomed nearly 900 aspiring physicians and veterinarians to Grenada to receive an insider’s view of their future careers since 2002. In the program’s 15-year history, 46 Academy graduates have gone on to enroll in the School of Medicine or Veterinary Medicine.

“This experience so far has been great,” said Mr. Turner. “Today, we had a suture clinic where we learned how to do three different kinds of suture patterns. While working at a vet’s office, I would see these sutures done, and I always wished that I could do it myself. Now I have the chance.

“This has been a valuable opportunity for my own learning and development that I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in a med or vet program.”

This summer, 74 students hailing from the United States, Canada, Trinidad, Bahamas, Bermuda, United Kingdom, and Puerto Rico successfully balanced a challenging academic program with extracurricular activities such as hiking, sailing, and snorkeling. Both the med and vet students engaged in courses that combined didactic lectures, small-group problem solving sessions, practical lab work in state-of-the-art facilities, and hands-on training through simulated and real-life situations.

This year’s class included Charlize Espinoza, who had undoubtedly been regaled with stories of SGU by her aunt, Cholene Espinoza, MD SGU ’15, now a PGY-3 OB/GYN resident at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. When asked in kindergarten what she wanted to be when she grew up, Charlize replied “a doctor.” A decade later, that answer still hasn’t changed.

“I jumped at the chance to attend the Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy because I really wanted the opportunity to plan out my future and get a glimpse of what attending medical school would be like,” Ms. Espinoza said. “However, as someone who suffers from anxiety attacks, I thought this might not be right for me—being in a different country, living in dorms, and being away from my parents. But since being here, I haven’t had any anxiety issues. Instead, I’m really enjoying this experience, and everyone has been so warm and welcoming. It’s been a very intensive program so far but the lectures are very interesting and the doctors are very accessible. The Academy is a great place to test the waters and get ready for medical school.”

In 2017, four Academy alumni—Kristen Sellar, DVM; Abigail Maynard, DVM; Lisa Dyke, MD; and Virginia Vazzana, MD—earned their degrees at commencement in New York City. Dr. Vazzana, daughter of SGU alumnus Thomas Vazzana, MD SGU ’85, attended the Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy in 2010 after it received rave reviews from her older sister, who had attended three years earlier. She accepted a seat at SGU’s School of Medicine, where she met and married her classmate Hamfreth Shaul Rahming, MD SGU ’17. Dr. Vazzana began her pediatric residency at The Dwaine and Cynthia Willet Children’s Hospital of Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia, this month.

“The Academy was truly the first experience that I had of what medical school and becoming a physician is really like,” stated Dr. Vazzana. “I still remember the first time I worked on a human cadaver, the first time I wore a white coat and shadowed doctors to see real patients, the first time I learned to use an ultrasound machine, and so much more. These things all happened at the Academy. For me, being exposed to these opportunities really was a perfect way to confirm what I wanted to do with my future and is a huge reason I became a doctor.”