Sepehr Lalezari, MD

As a bariatric and minimally invasive surgeon, Sepehr Lalezari, MD SGU ’11, believes the procedures he performs is as much about the lives that are positively affected as it is about the weight loss.

“To take someone who has struggled with something for their entire life, who are taking a multitude of medications, and then to see them be able to play with their kids, and go out and live a life that they couldn’t before is very rewarding,” he said.

Dr. Lalezari recently completed a bariatric and minimally invasive surgery fellowship at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and is now opening an advanced bariatric and minimally invasive general surgery practice in Los Angeles—where he grew up.

“What I enjoy about bariatric surgery is how technically demanding the cases are,” Dr. Lalezari said. “You’re always trying to better yourself and find different ways to do the operation more efficiently and with fewer incisions. It’s very interesting. Every day is new and exciting.”

At Johns Hopkins, he learned the most cutting-edge procedures such as single-site surgery and endoscopic surgery—“truly incisionless surgery,” he called it. Training at JHU was an “honor” and has put him in a unique position when starting private practice.

Born in Iran, Dr. Lalezari moved to California with his family at age 4. With the help of a highly influential primary school teacher, he overcame early difficulty with learning the English language to become a high achiever, eventually graduating magna cum laude—and two years early—from UCLA with a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience.

Always dedicated to education, he spent some time as a high school biology teacher, after which he set off on his journey to become a physician, enrolling at St. George’s University.

“SGU was the only Caribbean school I even considered,” he said. “It had a good reputation, and I knew a lot of people who went there, worked hard, and ended up in the places they wanted to be.”

He embraced the culture in Grenada, where among other activities he provided instruction in basic life support through the American Heart Association and helped facilitate neuroscience review sessions.

“The faculty, staff, and people in Grenada were great,” Dr. Lalezari said. “It’s a great place to learn, and the education I received set me up to be successful. I also appreciated all the support from the staff there. If I had any questions or needed anything from them, they were always available.”

For his clinical training, Dr. Lalezari trained throughout the United States, including Florida, New York, California, and at Minnesota’s prestigious Mayo Clinic. Although he studied neuroscience as an undergrad, he steered his career toward bariatrics and minimally invasive surgery after seeing the long-term effects that his care could provide, as well as the long-term relationships he could develop with patients—similar to that of his primary care doctor growing up who first inspired him to pursue a career in medicine.

“With bariatric surgery, I love the relationships you develop with the patients,” he said. “They’re looking for a way out of their current situation, they’ve been fighting their entire lives, and you help them meet their goals. In the end, they’re so happy. The relationships that develop with patients over time is why I got into medicine in the first place.”

After graduation, Dr. Lalezari earned a general surgery residency at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati—his top-choice program—and he ascended to the rank of Chief Resident for the 2015-16 year. Following residency, he went on to complete his fellowship at Johns Hopkins—also his top choice.

Throughout his training, he has felt very much on par with his colleagues from US schools, and it was clear that SGU grads were “hungrier for success.”

In bariatrics, his success is now measured in the magnitude by which his patients’ lives are changed.

“I’m living what’s been my lifelong dream,” he said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with where I ended up, I love what I do and I have so many career choices because of where I’ve been. It’s been an amazing journey.”

Kris Mahadeo, MD

Pediatric cancer patients are met with an inconceivable challenge at an early age, and it will have been a long journey by the time they meet Dr. Kris Mahadeo. The 2003 St. George’s University graduate is the Section Chief and Medical Director of Pediatric Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

In many cases, he said, it’s the patients’ “last hope.” It’s also their best hope—MD Anderson is the leading cancer center in the United States.

“A lot of times, patients were admitted and have stayed for a long period of time,” said Dr. Mahadeo, who also serves as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics. “It’s a process, but when children can go home, which they never imagined in their lifetime, their reaction is priceless. It’s very fulfilling.”

Dr. Mahadeo has been on a long journey of his own, but has found a home in Houston. He grew up in Trinidad and Tobago before he and his family moved to New York City when he was 8. He went on to graduate cum laude from Adelphi University in New York with a Bachelor of Science in biology.

With an eye on studying medicine, he applied to 10 medical schools, with St. George’s University as the only international school. Through current students and graduates, he learned that SGU had “all the elements of education” for students to be successful, as well as a track record of placing graduates in highly competitive residency programs.

“There are so many graduates throughout the country who are quite successful,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t even realize your doctor is an SGU graduate.”

From day one, Dr. Mahadeo focused on obtaining a competitive residency, committing himself to his studies during his basic science years in Grenada and then two clinical years in the United States. He entered SGU with primary care as his likely career path, but was drawn to immunology over time, particularly as it relates to cancer care.

Dr. Mahadeo’s road to a career in hematology and oncology continued as he completed his pediatric internship year at Maimonides Children’s Hospital in New York City, and finished his residency at the Children’s Hospital at St. Peter’s in New Jersey. He opted to broaden his knowledge—and strengthen his resume—by earning a Master of Public Health from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Dr. Mahadeo then advanced to a pediatric hematology oncology fellowship at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a pediatric blood and marrow transplantation fellowship at Duke University Medical Center.

His exposure to an international student body, faculty, and patient pool along the way has prepared him for his career in pediatrics.

“To meet people from across the world in Grenada, and then to work alongside classmates from other schools in the US, I think it shapes your perspective on health care,” Dr. Mahadeo said. “The global experience is really helpful for me because in this specialized field, we’re taking care of patients from all over, and we have to understand what’s endemic in those areas and treat patients in alignment with their values.”

Before joining MD Anderson, he spent three years as an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein Cancer Center and an Attending Physician and Director of Marrow and Blood Cell Transplantation at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. He served a similar role at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as Director of Quality Management and Attending Physician in Los Angles. Dr. Mahadeo’s extensive research has focused on allogeneic stem cell transplantation and immunotherapy for solid tumors and genetic diseases, as well as critical care outcomes for children undergoing therapy. He currently serves as co-chair of the HSCT sub-group of the Pediatric Acute Lung Injury and Sepsis Investigators (PALISI).

The success stories are reminders of why he has gone down this career path. There’s the high school student whose transplant gave her a second life, the patient from Angola who messages him every year, the time a child who, after his third transplant, met his unrelated donor at halftime of a celebrity soccer game.

And the times when his pediatric patients can go home.

“We do a discharge parade, the staff and patients come out, and there’s confetti,” he said. “It’s very rewarding.”

Mondel George, MD

At a young age—just 17—Mondel George set off on his journey to become a physician. Born and raised in Grenada, he didn’t have to travel far to attend his dream school.

“St. George’s University was then, and still is, the most prestigious institution in the Caribbean, so there was nowhere else I would have rather attended,” said Dr. George, a 2015 School of Medicine graduate.

In addition to being a general practitioner on the island, Dr. George pays it forward at his alma mater by working as a learning strategist in the Department of Educational Services, providing medical students with the tools and tips to succeed both in their studies and in their careers.

His contribution is part of a network of support that helps the entire student body, just as it did for him through his undergraduate and medical studies at SGU.

“One thing that really sets SGU apart from other institutions is the amount of support that is offered to its students,” stated Dr. George. “There are numerous avenues for helping students, from the Psychological Services Center to University Health Services, including the Department of Educational Services and faculty open office hours. As a student, if you’re ever in need, there is someone here to help you at SGU.”

While pursuing his Bachelor of Science within the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), Dr. George was also a member of the Undergraduate Student Government Association and the Caribbean Students Association, while also serving as a teaching assistant and a volunteer at the SGU radio station. After completing his bachelor’s degree in three-and-a-half years, he took the summer off to work in Grenada’s Ministry of Agriculture.

In the past, he had volunteered with the Sickle Cell Association of Grenada, with mental health organizations, and at his local church. With a desire to help those in need, he applied to SGU’s School of Medicine program and received a scholarship to attend.

“When I started medical school, I felt like the foundation I had in SAS was incomparable to those students who did not previously attend SGU,” added Dr. George. “I was not only familiar with the campus but also with the professors, the test-taking formats, and the different resources I could go to for help. I never once felt like I was left alone in the wilderness. I feel like the lecturers here at SGU do an excellent job in terms of guiding you toward having a successful career.”

Dr. George greatly appreciates the foundation that SGU has created, which he is building upon to this day. He is a Charter Class member of SGU’s Master of Education program, with a graduation date of May 2018. Dr. George encourages others to follow a similar path to achieve their own goals.

“As an international university that is well respected, the diversity that SGU offers in unlike any other,” he said. “The connections that I made in undergrad are still present in my life today. The hands-on support that the University offered prepared me well to enter such a noble profession.”

Boonyanuth Maturostrakul, MD

Flanked by her parents on graduation day, Dr. Boonyanuth Maturostrakul was overjoyed not only about what she had accomplished but the direction she was headed. In the summer of 2017, Dr. Boonyanuth began an internal medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in New York City—her top-choice program.

A product of Mahidol University International College, Dr. Boonyanuth enrolled in St. George’s University’s Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program on a partial scholarship. The program allowed her to complete her first year of studies at Northumbria University in Newcastle, United Kingdom, before continuing on to Grenada and then the United States for her clinical training.

“I liked the adventure,” she said. “I really wanted to travel, and to come to the States, to Grenada, and to have spent my first year in England, it was such a dream.”

Dr. Boonyanuth remained dedicated throughout her tenure as a student at SGU, graduating cum laude in 2016. She said that SGU provided her with a “good basic science background,” which allowed her to pass her board exams and practice in the United States.

Grenada was the perfect backdrop for her to strive toward and reach her goal of becoming a physician.

“Grenada is so beautiful,” she said. “I liked exploring the island, going to the waterfalls, and going to the beach. The campus is so pretty. In your free time, you can just watch the ocean and relax your mind.”

For Thai students who are considering their next step, Dr. Boonyanuth said, “If you try hard enough, your dreams will come true.”

Min Jung Kang, MD

More than a decade ago, Min Jung Kang, MD SGU ’13, set off for the United States to continue her studies, with hopes of practicing medicine there one day. Having created a foundation for her future at St. George’s University in Grenada, she is thriving in a group pediatrics practice in Pennsylvania, having completed her residency at Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York City.

Dr. Kang was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Osaka, Japan. She eventually went on to earn her bachelor’s degree at the University of California at Berkeley, and her yearning to help people led her to SGU, citing its clinical training opportunities in the United States and high residency match rate.

She came to Grenada and quickly found colleagues with whom she could live—on campus and off—as well as depend on. Dr. Kang enjoyed the vibrant campus and how it overlooks the beach and Caribbean Sea. With high marks in her coursework and step exams, in 2014 she secured a highly competitive postgraduate position, joining hundreds of her fellow classmates in residency.

Dr. Kang recommends St. George’s University for those who are committed to becoming a physician and practicing in the United States.

Shivantha Amarnath, MD

From a young age, Shivantha Amarnath, MD SGU ’17, dreamt of training to become a physician and treating the citizens of New York City. Now a first-year internal medicine resident at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine at Staten Island University, he’s doing just that.

“SGU further reinforced my desire to pursue medicine, and the amazing community of lecturers, colleagues, and staff were truly inspirational and supportive in helping me reach that goal,” he said. “SGU also gave me the opportunity to complete my clinical rotations in New York, and now it’s given me the chance to do my residency here.”

Dr. Shivantha was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and as the son of an ophthalmologist, he gained early exposure to the medical profession. His drive to become a physician was evident in his efforts. Dr. Shivantha was a member of the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society for Humanitarian Efforts, organizing youth camps, serving as a youth first aid trainer, and assisting with tsunami relief efforts. He graduated from nearby Royal College, also playing basketball for its U-13, U-15, and U-19 teams and the Sri Lankan National Team. Dr. Shivantha earned his Bachelor of Science (Hons.) in biology from Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom and also obtained an Honorary degree in the Royal Society of Biology, UK, being a trend setter in first class. He is a Trinity College of Music qualified pianist and cellist as well.

With a desire to obtain medical training in the United States, he chose SGU because it offered “the same level of education” while also functioning as a gateway to the US.

While Grenada was halfway around the world from Sri Lanka, the setting was very similar.

“The island felt close to home considering my home country is also a tropical island,” Dr. Shivantha said. “The people, the food, and even the culture made me feel close to home. Adjusting to Grenada was a breeze.”

A high achiever at MMU, Dr. Shivantha came to SGU on an International Student scholarship. He admits that it took time to adjust to the American teaching and examination system, particularly with MCQ questions, but worked closely with University staff to overcome those obstacles. With their help, he began to thrive, gaining admittance to the Iota Epsilon Alpha International Medical Honor Society. He ultimately gave back to his fellow students as a tutor for biochemistry, anatomy, and pathology as part of SGU’s award-winning Department of Educational Services. Upon graduating, Dr. Shivantha was inducted into the Arnold P. Gold Foundation’s Gold Humanism Honor Society, reserved for students, residents and faculty who exemplify compassionate patient care.

“The education system prepared me for the boards since day one, and offering adequate time for preparation for the steps was also a big plus,” he said.

Dr. Shivantha is now well on his way toward the next goal in his career—a fellowship in either gastroenterology or hematology/oncology.

“For anyone from Sri Lanka who wanted to pursue to become a doctor and get trained either in the States, UK, or Canada, St. George’s University is, without a doubt, the best choice.”

Mel Ona, MD

As a basic science student at St. George’s University, Mel Ona, MD SGU ’09, absorbed all he could from the paradise that surrounded him, all while working toward a degree and his dream of being a physician.

Nearly a decade later, he has landed in paradise once again, this time settling in Hawaii, where he joined a single-specialty private gastroenterology group practice in Oahu this summer.

“It’s been quite a journey,” he said. “I’m looking forward to applying my skills, and I feel that I have the toolset to care for someone who needs help in any part of the GI field.”

Dr. Ona relocated to Hawaii from Los Angeles, where he recently completed a rigorous and highly sought-after one-year advanced endoscopy GI fellowship at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Previously, he had finished his internal medicine residency at Lutheran Medical Center in New York, including serving as Chief Resident in 2011-12. Dr. Ona then completed a three-year GI fellowship at The Brooklyn Hospital Center before heading to LA.

And now, he’s saying hello to the Aloha State.

“With this new position, it’s a great group and it’s much more intimate than what I’m used to, so I think I’ll be able to greatly utilize my skills and knowledge,” he said. “I’m excited to be working and learning with such a talented group.”

In addition to his clinical role, Dr. Ona looks forward to volunteering and teaching at John A. Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu. The relocation also brings him closer to his parents, who moved to Hawaii 18 years ago.

His father, Fernando, is a gastroenterologist in Honolulu, and Dr. Ona’s exposure to the field at an early age bred his own interest. Gastroenterology marries two of his passions—medicine and nutrition—making it an attractive career path.

“I like having the balance of medicine and procedures,” he said. “It gives you the opportunity to take care of patients in a multitude of ways.”

In addition, he hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps altruistically. In 1997, Dr. Fernando Ona established the Melchor and Martina Ona Memorial Health Center—named for his parents—which serves 10 villages in the town of Santo Tomas, Batangas, Philippines. Mel hopes to join his father on medical missions to provide free health care to a rural community where many residents are malnourished.

“It’s a beautiful clinic,” he said. “We are proud of everything that it offers, and I aspire to continue doing the great work that’s being done.”

At first, Dr. Ona had steered his career in a completely different direction—music. He grew up playing several instruments, leading him to earn a degree in music from the College of the Holy Cross in 1993. It wasn’t until 2005 that he enrolled at St. George’s University, in the meantime building his application with a Master of Arts in medical science and Master of Public Health from Boston University, and a Master of Science in nutritional biochemistry and metabolism from Tufts University.

He immediately began building his network of mentors, beginning with his application interviewer – Stephanie Weiss, MD SGU ’99, now the Chief of the Division of Neurologic Oncology at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Others included Paul Barbara, MD SGU ’04, an emergency medicine physician and Office of Career Guidance representative; and faculty members Marios Loukas and Feisal Brahim.

“SGU gave me a sense of being part of a community,” Dr. Ona said. “You meet all these brilliant minds who are doing amazing things, and the campus is so diverse. I felt really blessed to be at SGU. I gave it as much as I could, and I got a lot in return.

“I’m deeply grateful,” he added. “The fears and the doubts have made me appreciate the journey more. It wasn’t all me; it was a team effort.”

As his own career has budded, Dr. Ona has made a point to pay it forward. He has penned several books, including 101 Tips for Thriving as a Chief Resident and Tips for Thriving on the Internal Medicine Wards, and he would welcome the opportunity to mentor SGU students who are seeking guidance.

“You have to work hard, but SGU gave all of us that vehicle to prove to ourselves that we can make it,” he said. “It’s prepared me well, and it’s going to be with me forever.”

Seth Iskowitz, MD

For four years of medical school and well before that, Seth Iskowitz had his sights on returning to his native South Florida. Specifically, he hoped to practice at the prestigious Nicklaus Children’s Hospital (formerly Miami Children’s).

On Match Day, his vision became a reality.

“When I received the email, I was filled with emotion because everything I had ever dreamed of was in that one email,” Dr. Iskowitz said. “I’ve wanted to go to this hospital for as long as I can remember.”

SGU came onto his radar while he was pursuing his Bachelor of Science in psychology at the University of Central Florida. His father, a pediatric cardiologist, had hired an SGU graduate who he called “one of the best doctors he had ever met.” Dr. Iskowitz joined SGU’s Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program, for which students spend their first year of basic sciences at Northumbria University in Newcastle, United Kingdom.

“I loved the small classes in Newcastle, and we really got to know our classmates, our professors, and the administration,” Dr. Iskowitz said. “Also, the town has so much culture and so much to do.”

In Grenada and through his clinical rotations, Dr. Iskowitz participated in the Student Government Association, including as Executive Vice President of New York Hospitals for 2016-17. His all-around experience, which included health care training in three different countries, helped him obtain 20 residency interviews. Dr. Iskowitz looks forward to continuing his career in a familiar community, just like he always hoped he could.

“I’ve been pushing all this time to have an opportunity to return home, and that I now am has made all the hard work worth it,” he said.

Callana Fox, MD

When Callana Fox, MD SGU ’17, visited Richmond for her interview with the Department of Anesthesiology at Virginia Commonwealth University, everything about the experience just felt right – right down to the smiles on the residents’ faces.

“It’s an amazing program and I think the culture is a good fit for me,” she said. “Also, everybody I interacted with was so genuine and enthusiastic. I could sense they were happy where they were.”

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Dr. Fox earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin. Her interest in global health spurred her to apply to and enroll in SGU’s Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program, for which students spend the first year of basic sciences at Northumbria University in Newcastle, United Kingdom. She enjoyed the program’s smaller class sizes as well as the international experience in and outside the classroom. When time permitted, she and friends traveled throughout Europe, including to Ireland, Scotland, France, Holland, and Switzerland.

With high marks, Dr. Fox was welcomed to SGU’s chapter of the Iota Epsilon Alpha Honor Medical Society. She also volunteered at several health fairs and diabetic clinics in Grenada, and as a mentor to aspiring medical students during clinical rotations in New York City. With a robust resume, Dr. Fox went on 17 residency interviews, and was pleased to learn on Match Day that her career will continue at VCU.

“I think the whole experience has helped me come out of my shell and really helped me to become a much stronger, more resilient applicant,” Dr. Fox said. “Going to SGU taught me to work hard for what I want and to do what needs to get done.”

Orapeleng Phuswane, MD

Dr. Orapeleng Phuswane, who hails from Mochudi, Botswana, is a 2003 graduate of Naledi Senior Secondary School. She is currently Medical Officer in Pediatrics at Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone and is “loving every moment.” She credits the plentiful hands-on experience at St. George’s for preparing her for the stint there, where she routinely visits with patients one-on-one and assists on operations.

“We don’t have a lot of doctors here so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to improve my own country,” she said. “Hopefully in the future I will be able to open my own practice.”

Dr. Phuswane earned her Bachelor of Science in Basic Medical Sciences from St. George’s University in 2007 and went on to garner her Doctor of Medicine from St. George’s University School of Medicine in 2011. In doing so, Dr. Phuswane completed her rotations at Stafford Hospital in the UK, where she was named a chapter member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, which recognized senior medical students and residents who have demonstrated excellence, dedication, and leadership. In 2012, she completed a one-year medical officer internship at Princess Marina, and in 2015, through having earned a prestigous Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, she spent seven weeks learning methods of operating in government at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.

While working toward her MD in Grenada, Dr. Phuswane volunteered as a counselor at a program for adolescent mothers and also worked as a tutor at Bel Air Children’s Home, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to caring for and teaching underprivileged children. In 2012, she served as the SGU School of Medicine class speaker at the first-ever SGU commencement ceremony in Botswana, at which government officials, family, and friends were in attendance. She also emceed the 2016 ceremony.

Dr. Phuswane said she is looking forward to a long career in pediatrics in Botswana, expressing that seeing children’s joy after having been brought back to health is “the greatest reward in the world.” She hopes to eventually own and operate a children’s home focused on children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

“I really enjoy working with children,” she stated. “It’s great to see them smile when they feel better and to see the difference that you’ve made.”