Paulina Buraczynski, MD

You were an environmental sciences major at Syracuse University. What prompted you to transition to a career in pediatrics?

“One summer, I started volunteering at a local children’s hospital. I saw how the nurses and doctors interacted with the children, and at times, I felt there was a minimal to no interaction at all with the actual patients but solely with the parents. I understand that children may be too young to fully understand what is happening and do not even have choice in the matter, but it doesn’t mean they should be left out of the loop. They are the ones that everything is happening to. It made a big difference once you explained in simple terms to the children what is happening and what will happen. I decided I wanted to change that mentality, that children should be part of the discussion.

“In pediatrics especially, it is incredibly rewarding to know that your hard work is going to change a person’s life, to see a child who’s knocking on death’s door recuperate and grow into a normal child that no one would even know the troubles they went through. I don’t know if there is a greater sense of personal satisfaction. The beauty of pediatrics is that you get to see your patient grow through life. You may have started to see them when they were just born and continue to see them until they are 18 or even over 21. You create a much stronger bond with the child and family.”

You became a mother recently. How did having a child of your own change your perspective?

“It has changed everything. It’s really been a total 180 for me. In the NICU, you know a woman has been preparing this child for 40 weeks, and if they end up in my unit we all know this wasn’t the way it was supposed to unfold. The version that has been building up for months is not in shambles. Fortunately for me, I never experienced what it was like for my daughter to be in the NICU, but I can only imagine how I would feel. The most joyous time in someone’s life becomes one of the worst. As a mother, it’s very difficult to be able to compare these women and what they are going through to yourself. You now can empathize with them, thinking of your little one in the position that theirs is in.

“It can be difficult to disengage at the end of the day, constantly thinking about the babies and parents. I feel a very deep connection now that I am a parent. It changes your perspective on the entire world, not just medicine.”

Can you elaborate further on the kind of relationships that you form with the families you see?

“Since I work in the NICU, you develop a very personal and deep connection with the families, and especially mothers. You are in the trenches with them, helping them through possibly the worst moments of their lives. Here in Hawaii the word ‘Ohana’ means family and togetherness, and ‘Aloha’ means love and unity, both words run very deep here. The Hawaiian culture is very family centered, which can make your job easier or more difficult. But once you have entered that sacred bond with the families, you become Ohana, a part of their family. I know this is very different when compared to other parts of the United States.

“Truthfully, everything you learn in medical school or during residency doesn’t adequately prepare you for the personal connection you need to make with families and patients. You learn how to read people very quickly and well, and that something that might work for one patient could be considered offensive to the next.

“My job is to help these babies come out of the NICU and live the most normal life they can, but also to give the family hope, patience, and love.”

Do you have a story from your time in the NICU that stands out in your mind?

“There was one scenario where we had a full-term baby who had hypoxic ischemic encelopathy (HIE). The directors of the NICU, PICU, and all of our specialists had thought it was a lost cause, that damage was too severe to continue on. After multiple discussions with the parents to withdraw care, they persisted to fight. Since Ohana and Aloha are big components of life here, this isn’t that uncommon. We all were convinced this was a lost cause and the child would never leave the hospital alive. That was a year and a half ago. After a few months of intense treatment, ECMO, dialysis, she was finally discharged at eight months. That same baby came back two months ago, and you would never have guessed the complications that she went through. There were delayed milestones and some other issues with vision, but otherwise as healthy as can be. You never would have guessed that this is the child that everyone almost gave up on. This situation showed us the true miracle of medicine and that we, even though we think we do, don’t know how the human body can respond. I see the miracle of modern medicine every day.”

Hawaii’s only your latest stop. You were born in Poland, and grew up in Canada and Syracuse, NY. How would you describe your experience as a student in Grenada?

“I loved it. I’m pretty adventurous and love to travel, so I had a great time exploring the island and the surrounding islands. Weekend getaways to different parts of the island were the norm, Fish Friday in Gouyave every other Friday, snorkeling, sailing, hiking, and the hashes. Grenada holds a very special place in my heart, I even met my husband there (Gautham Kanagaraj, MD SGU ’12), who recently finished up his cardiovascular disease fellowship at the University of Hawaii. I hope to take my daughter there one day and show her where it all began.”

Tanzid Shams, MD

Undergrad: Harvard University
Residency: Pediatrics, New York Medical College at Westchester Medical Center (2008-2010); Neurology, Columbia University Medical Center (2010-2013)
Fellowship: Clinical Neurophysiology, University of Texas Health Science Center

Why did you choose neurology for a career path?

“There are so many different things you can get into. For me, I was passionate about brain health and sports medicine, so concussion is the perfect overlap. I had done two years of pediatric training at Westchester Medical Center and three years of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center as part of a combined program, and that’s when some of the stories surrounding the NFL and how football players were demonstrating long-term psychological and neurological derangements.”

What have you done to expand health care coverage for the population in your region?

“When I joined three years ago, I was the only hospital-based neurologist for a 13-hospital network. We have since merged with another group, so we are now providing care for 29 counties in Tennessee, southern Virginia, and North Carolina.

“Over the course of the last three years, we have been able to transform our hospital from primary to comprehensive stroke center. Out of 5,000 or so hospitals in the United States, only 72 others have this designation. It’s very meaningful. The patients in Tennessee are so appreciative, and that really has a huge impact on your work-life balance. From the beginning, what I liked about this job is that it was an opportunity to build something from the ground up.”

How does rural health care differ from what you experienced growing up?

“I was raised in Bangladesh and went to high school in New Jersey. My time in the US has been in three big cities—New York, Boston, and San Francisco—so to work in Tennessee is eye-opening for me. Growing up in the northeast, I had no idea how underserved some parts of America are. If you’re in the northeast, you can choose from hundreds of neurologists. Here, it’s very meaningful to provide care to patients who don’t have a lot of access to medicine.”

You have said that you enjoying launching new projects. Can you describe some of your recent initiatives?

“I have been working on incubating several healthcare startups. The first one is called concussiontriagenetwork.com. The concept is that if a mom or dad is on the sidelines and their son or daughter takes a tough hit and looks groggy, they can use an app or iPad to dial up a neurologist and have a video assessment done within three to five minutes. Right now, it’s in a healthcare incubator and we have seed funding launch the company.

“My second startup is called Sentinel Healthcare, which is at a more advanced stage. Because it’s hard to predict who’s going to be sick, we built a health care platform that can take data from your blood pressure monitor at home, and we can monitor it remotely. We recently won the Seattle Angel Investor startup competition, beating out 64 other startups. We’ve been able to raise about $200,000 to this point and hope to build momentum toward Serie A financing.”

In what direction do you see digital health going in the future?

“Right now, I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. One day I think that you’ll likely see health care data readily available to health care companies so that when people are at home and they’re hypertensive or suffering from sleep apnea or COPD, a system is set up so we don’t have to wait until people are sick. We’ll be able to see who’s getting sicker and give them the care they need immediately. It’s just a matter of how we can scale this process for 100 or 1,000 patients, how we can leverage technology, analyze the data, and make better health care decisions.”

Fariborz Rezai, MD

Undergrad: Rutgers University
Residency: Internal Medicine, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
Fellowship: Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center

You’re in the process of converting the ICU at Saint Barnabas from a traditional model to a closed model. What are the benefits of a closed model?

The whole essence of a closed model is that everyone’s on the same page. The captain of the ship is an intensivist, who knows exactly what’s going on. The direction of the care is going in one direction instead of it being sporadic. If there’s a patient that comes into the emergency room, if the ER feels he or she needs it, they can call us for a consult within one hour. And it isn’t unique to the ER. If a patient’s on a medical floor, they’ve been sitting there for a few days and their condition worsens, a physician can call us and we can go up and provide care that they feel is appropriate. We have a very strong working relationship with all the disciplines in the other departments.

What is a successful day in the ICU? What is a difficult day?

A successful day and a difficult day can go hand in hand. A difficult day isn’t so much whether the work was hard or there was a high volume of work. A difficult day comes when a patient has passed away. It doesn’t matter if the patient is 108 years old or 22—a life is a life. No matter how old, having to be very involved with the family and giving them the news is a very difficult process, although it’s a very important process. At the same time, family members want honesty. They appreciate being 100 percent transparent with them and giving the best possible effort, whether it’s reviving a patient or bring them back to baseline. That’s what we do every day.

How do you evaluate your own success as an overseer of it all?

First and foremost, I want to make sure that the patient care delivered here is excellent. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure everyone feels that they’re a valuable part of the team. It’s important to recognize the contributions of everyone involved, whether it’s the social worker, the dietitian, the physician, or the one doing the surgical procedure. That’s the essence of it—everyone working together to take care of the patient. It’s important that everyone knows how much they’ve done and how much they’re appreciated.

What’s it like to be practicing near where you grew up?

I’ve lived here my whole life; I was born in Jersey City and raised in Florham Park. I see a lot of family members of individuals who I grew up with, and I have to admit, it can be a little weird, but at the end of the day, I do feel very valued because I’m here to save a loved one for them, or to cope with them.

Saint Barnabas is one of the 70-plus affiliated hospitals and clinical centers in the SGU network. What’s it like to see SGU clinical students rotating through?

When third- and fourth-year students find out that the director of the ICU at one of the largest health care systems in the United States is an SGU grad, I see their eyes light up. I go down to Grenada every year with the clinical faculty so I know what the curriculum is. I know that SGU has prepared them very well and that they have a good foundation of knowledge. I also know what they’re going through. I like to imagine them thinking about what the future holds for them. They’re nervous, they just came back to the states, and they’re trying to get their step exams out of the way. I can appreciate it, and I enjoy reliving those times with them. I myself am very lucky that I chose SGU.

Adrian Sosenko, MD

Undergrad: Saint Anselm College (NH)
Residency: Preliminary General Surgery, UMass Medical School

You recently obtained a urology residency at Penn State Health. How did urology come onto your radar?

“My father is a urologist in Chicago, and going into urology myself was one of my ultimate goals. I had been involved with urology medical device sales for almost five years before I went to SGU. Everybody kept saying that I was crazy to want to do urology because of how extremely competitive it is. There’s a high unmatch rate for grads of American schools, never mind foreign grads, but I’ve always wanted to do it.

“At SGU, I did well on my step exams and had 11 urology interviews, but I didn’t match the first time. At that point, I had to think of a backup plan, and I was fortunate to be offered a preliminary surgery position at UMass. I took it and did really well, and I even met Alayna, my future wife so it couldn’t have worked out better. I then had a few PGY2 urology interviews during intern year, including at Penn State, which offered me an interview for June 1.”

How did the interview process unfold and how did you find out that you’d been offered the position?

“Being a resident, you can’t take too much time off, so I ended up leaving at 6 pm on a Thursday after my call hours, and I arrived in Pennsylvania around midnight. I interviewed the next day until about 8:30 at night, and then drove home and got to Worcester at 2 am just in time for a 24-hour shift on Saturday. Not long afterward, I was doing a general surgery consult when my phone went off. I went into my office to look at my email, and it said that I had been offered the position. My heart may have stopped right then. I couldn’t believe it. Even now it’s still surreal.”

So your dad’s a urologist and here you are about to join him. How did you share the news with him?

“When I called him, he was scrubbed up to do a nephrectomy. He put me on speaker, and I told him that I got the position at Penn State. He was very ecstatic and started crying, so much so that he had to scrub out.”

What kind of role has he played in your life and your career?

“My dad has been very inspirational to me. For years, he’s worked seven days a week and in 11 hospitals, and if you talk to his patients, they’ll say that he sits down and listens to them. The patients come first, and that’s my mantra too. Whoever you’re treating, that’s someone’s mother, brother, or other family member.

“He lives to do the work he does. That said, he never pushed me to go into medical school or to go into urology. He just wanted me to be happy and to do what I wanted to do. In the back of my mind, I wanted to do urology. I wanted to one day take somebody’s bladder out with my dad, and to keep the family’s continuity of care for the next 40 of 50 years.”

Urology isn’t for everybody. What intrigues you most about it?

“Urology has been and always will be at the forefront of robotic surgery, and between that, the open surgery, and continuity of care with patients. It’s such a dynamic and challenging field. With the baby boomers and the number of urology resident spots still really low, there’s also such a high demand for urological services.”

Medicine wasn’t always in your plans however, correct?

“My dad’s dad was a doctor and his three siblings are doctors or in medicine, yet in undergrad, I wasn’t even thinking about it. With my mother being in law, I thought about going in that direction myself. I took the LSAT and did well, but just decided it wasn’t for me. After I went into sales and got to deal firsthand with thousands of patients as a device rep and OR rep, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. Sales wasn’t fulfilling enough.

“I eventually was put in contact with Ihor Sawchuk, the CEO of Hackensack University Medical Center. He told me about how they have a partnership with SGU, and if I was looking at a foreign medical school, it’s the best one out there. I enrolled in the postbacc program and made it through. What was nice was that, after my two years in Grenada, I was able to go to Hackensack for my first clerkship year. I was also able to do urology electives at places like the University of Washington, Illinois-Chicago, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and Hackensack.”

You may have taken a roundabout path to it, but you accomplished your goal of becoming a physician and a urologist. How does it feel?

“When I’m asked if I would change anything about my past, I say ‘absolutely not.’ I’m 100 percent proud of having gone to SGU. It’s made me who I am. We work harder than anybody, and the reality is we make really good residents.”

Dhruv Gupta, MD

Undergrad: Tulane University

 

Over the course of your life, you have lived in every corner of the globe. How has that experience shaped you as a physician and as a person?

“My father works in the oil industry, so every couple years we moved around. I’ve lived in India, Thailand, Venezuela, the US, Canada, Bangladesh, the UK, and Grenada. Living abroad has helped me because it’s taught me how to be adaptable and work with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and religions. When I meet individuals from cultures different from mine, I feel that I know how to work with them because of the varied experiences I’ve had communicating with others and thinking through challenging situations. My ability to readily adapt helps on the floors because I’m able to work with patients and establish a rapport with them no matter where they come from. Moreover, as a product of living in Venezuela, in addition to it being one of my undergraduate minors, I became fluent in Spanish. It helps tremendously in communicating with Spanish-speaking patients.”

 

How did your upbringing carry into your experience at St. George’s University?

“With my international upbringing, I was drawn to and enrolled in the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program at SGU. England was a wonderful experience, and between basic sciences and clinicals, I really enjoyed living and learning in three different countries. Also, I was able to participate in the India selective in Karad, during which we really got to see the challenges that some physicians have to overcome to provide health care for their patients. It’s a situation in which you’re really asked to step out of your comfort zone.”

 

Why have you chosen psychiatry for your career path?

“I’m really passionate about psychiatry and looking forward to goindg deeper into the field. Various encounters in my life have led me to question what motivates human behavior. I took AP Psychology in 10th grade; one of my undergraduate majors was psych; I went on to do a master’s in psych; and my favorite clerkship during medical school was psych. It’s a lifelong passion of mine based on my experiences. Community mental health care is often stigmatized. There are many misconstrued conceptions. I really want to provide quality psychiatric care, but also to treat a person holistically, with deeper biological, behavioral, and social influences in mind.”

 

You actually accepted the psychiatry residency position at Mount Sinai Elmhurst well before Match Day. How did that come about?

“Less than a day after I interviewed there, I received an email from the program director indicating that they really liked me and would like to offer me a position in their program. I was really surprised because I didn’t know that was something that they could do, but it was very relieving. I’m excited for the opportunity.”

 

Days after officially becoming a doctor, you attended to a patient experiencing an in-flight emergency. What role did you play in her treatment?

“I was headed to India with my mom for a few days, and shortly after takeoff from London, a medical emergency was called onboard. There was a loud thud in the bathroom followed by a page for physicians on board. A passenger had collapsed in the bathroom and was found unresponsive. I initially wondered if there was anyone with more experience—I had just graduated—but I explained that I could tend to her, relying on the knowledge and skills I have gathered over my SGU career.

First, I checked to see if she had a pulse, which she did. We helped get her to the closest seat possible, took her blood pressure, wiped her face with water, and tried communicating with her. She eventually became aware of her surroundings. Her blood pressure ended up being low and her heart rate elevated, and when I examined her, I noted that her tongue was dry, and that she was severely dehydrated. When I began to speak to her, she explained that she had only had a cup of coffee that day, and when she was in the bathroom, everything had gone dark in front of her and she collapsed. I went on to listen to her heart and lungs. We were able to stabilize her with electrolyte solutions available in the first-aid kit, and restricted any further caffeine and/or alcohol consumption over the course of the flight. As the flight continued, we continued to monitor her and make sure she was feeling better.

It was a big moment for me because it was my very first unsupervised clinical experience. I’m incredibly thankful to SGU for the knowledge and skills that they have provided me that helped me attend to the situation onboard, and moreover, for making my dream of becoming a physician a reality.”

Jeff Vacirca, MD

Current Positions: CEO/Managing Partner and Chief of Clinical Research, New York Cancer Specialists; President, Community Oncology Alliance; Medical Director, ION/ABSG; CEO and President, National Translational Research Group

Undergrad: University at Albany

Residency: Internal Medicine, Stony Brook University Hospital

Fellowship: Hematology and Medical Oncology, Stony Brook University Hospital

 

How has New York Cancer & Blood Specialists fit into the puzzle for patients seeking cancer treatment?

“Historically, people felt like they had to drive 100 miles to be seen at a major cancer center. Now they realize that they can get the same care, or even better care in many instances, a mile from their house. People don’t have to go far anymore. If there’s a challenge and they need us, we’re right down the road. They can come right in and be seen within an hour. As a community-based cancer center, our goal is for our patients to be treated in the most convenient place possible, in addition to being in a place that has cutting-edge medical care. We want to give them every advantage that a patient could get anywhere else in the world, right where they live and work every day.

Your organization has 25 locations on Long Island. How does the kind of care you provide differ from other hospitals and clinical centers?

“It makes a tremendous difference for us and for them. Patients come into our office and they’re not a number. They’re recognized in every one of our centers because our staff knows who they are. We’ve tried to make it such a place where it isn’t scary.”

How do you believe that oncological care differs from other fields of medicine?

“There’s an intimacy in this field between patients and caregivers that you rarely see. The physicians become almost part of the family in taking care of patients. Also, this is probably the only medical specialty where we have new therapy that comes out to help people almost every month. To me, that’s pretty remarkable. We’re very fortunate in that our cancer center has been on the leading edge in helping define what these new therapies are going to be.”

You mentioned a unique intimacy to the doctor-patient relationship. In addition to the connections you make with your patients, how do you manage your emotions during the difficult times?

“Emotionally, it’s a difficult field of medicine to work in because, no matter how good we are, there are going to be people who die from cancer. It means we have a long way to go in defining what the best treatment is for patients. At the same time, even when we try our best, the outcome has sometimes already been determined. That in itself makes this a tough field for a lot of people to be in. You need to have those small wins every day. Just yesterday, I sat with a woman with metastatic breast cancer who I’ve taken care of for over eight years. I had to have a discussion with her where I said that we couldn’t give her anything in terms of treatment moving forward, but we could do some things about her quality of life in the time that she has left, to make it as meaningful as possible. Even though that was a really tough discussion to have with her, at the end of the day, she felt good about what she was doing and what we’ve been through together, so we’re able to see the next person and keep that positive feeling with you.”

You went from Long Island to Grenada and back. How has attending SGU shaped you as a physician?

“My experience at SGU forged an unbelievable independent group of doctors who worked together through everything. Now as I’m on the other end of it and I make the decision on who’s hired, when I see SGU grads, they get interviewed first because I know what they’re made of. I know how hard we worked, and I also know that they realize the value of teamwork. They know that they have to get through things together. They’re going to be smart, and I’ve yet to meet someone from SGU who wasn’t hard-working and in the field other than for the love of medicine.”

Salvior Mok, MD

Undergrad: University of British Columbia

Residency: General Surgery, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

Fellowship: Cardiothoracic Surgery, Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Adult Cardiac Surgery, Yale-New Haven Hospital; Robotic Cardiac Surgery, Cleveland Clinic

What do you most enjoy about your current role?
“What I do is very rewarding because we can really be the difference between life and death a lot of the times. We take the best care of our patients as we can, and they and their family members are very grateful that we help.”

Going from law enforcement to medicine is an unusual transition, but you were in fact a police officer before entering medical school. What prompted you to change fields?
“I was with the police force for three years, but eventually felt that I wanted to do something more. As I got further away from being in school, I realized that sooner or later I couldn’t go back, so I decided to go to medical school. A friend of mine, Kenneth Yeung, MD SGU ’02, who has gone on to be very successful, had good things to say about SGU. I didn’t apply to any other school. The decision was easy for me. It’s a great alternative not only for people in the US but for people like me from around the world.”

You came to Buffalo after training at the acclaimed Cleveland Clinic. How has that experience prepared you for your position at Mercy Hospital and Catholic Health.
“Patients come from all over the world to Cleveland Clinic, which exposed me to diverse and complicated cases. It was a great training environment.

I’m very happy to be here at Mercy Hospital. The cardiology team is excellent and all the partners are wonderful. We work well together, and I feel as though I’m a valuable part of the team. It’s been a great experience so far.”

How would you describe your SGU experience?
“The campus and the island were really beautiful. I had a great time, and I made some friends who I still keep in touch with. Between the various lectures, the visiting professors, and doing my third- and fourth-year rotations at different locations, I was very well prepared.”

Russell Langan, MD

The patient, a man in his 50s, was in search of hope. His outlook was bleak; he’d been given six months to live, suffering from metastatic (Stage 4) cancer. The patient then sought the opinion of doctors at the National Cancer Institute, NIH, including then-fellow Russell Langan, MD SGU ’07.

“We treated him with a very aggressive, novel immunotherapy, and he responded exceedingly well,” Dr. Langan recalled.

The patient had a complete response to his therapy. Five years after the treatment, he visited Dr. Langan’s parents in upstate New York and asked if he could plant a tree in their yard to signify his appreciation for the care he received. Dr. Langan, now a surgical oncologist and hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) surgeon at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, appreciates those victories, and the impact that his care has had on so many.

“It’s touching to know that you’ve affected someone in such a fashion,” he said. “It’s just something you never forget.”

As a cancer surgeon, Dr. Langan and his team regularly collaborate with numerous departments to achieve the best possible outcomes for their patients and make seismic changes in their patients’ lives. His responsibilities center around operative and non-operative therapies related to disease and cancers within the abdomen, specifically those involving the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder, and pancreas. He enjoys not only the technical aspects of his position but also the long-term relationships that he’s able to build with patients and their families.

“I believe that there’s no better job out there,” Dr. Langan said. “The interpersonal interactions you have as a surgical oncologist far supersede other careers. You can offer hope to patients where others cannot. They put trust in our hands, and it drives me to do better.”

That said, the path to such a specialized field was quite arduous. After earning his Doctor of Medicine at SGU, Dr. Langan went on to complete five years of a general surgery residency at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and Georgetown University Medical Center. In addition, he completed three fellowships spanning five years.  But the journey was worth it. Through his decade of training, Dr. Langan has been involved with numerous clinical trials and has conducted research of his own, leading to national presentations, manuscripts, and book chapters devoted to multiple aspects of surgical oncology.

He isn’t alone among St. George’s University graduates practicing in such a specialized field.  While at the NCI, he worked closely with another SGU alum, Peter Prieto, MD SGU ’06, who performed his general surgery residency at Yale University.  Following their time at the NCI, Dr. Langan completed his fellowship in complex general surgical oncology and hepatopancreatobiliary surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, while Dr. Prieto went on to complete a fellowship in  complex general surgical oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.

They are the top two cancer centers in the United States according to US News & World Report.

“There is no doubt in my mind that SGU students can pursue whatever career they want,” he said. “There is no doubt about that.”

Dr. Langan came to St. George’s University after earning his bachelor’s degree at Cornell University, one of the largest sources of undergraduates to attend SGU’s School of Medicine. Before enrolling, however, he flew down to Grenada and spent five days talking to faculty and students—on and off campus—to learn more about the entire experience.

“After I did that, I had a sense that it was really going to get me where I wanted to be,” Dr. Langan said. “Not only is the island beautiful but it’s safe, and the people there are very welcoming.”

Outside of the basic sciences curriculum, he appreciated getting an early start on patient care by visiting Grenada General Hospital and participating in numerous health fairs and community events. As a result, he felt “exceptionally well prepared” for his board exams and rotations. In addition to his studies, he spent his free time playing intramural sports and hiking Grenada’s mountainous terrain.

“The education, lectureship and the laboratory mentorship that I had at St. George’s University far surpassed my expectations,” Dr. Langan said. “The education at SGU is literally top-notch. It’s one of the best places to train in the world because it prepares you well not only for the objective criteria for board exams but also for the real-life aspects of practicing medicine.”

The foundation he received allowed him to match into his top-choice program. His extensive research has helped him author more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and seven book chapters dedicated to surgical oncology. In addition to his clinical roles, Dr. Langan is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.

Dr. Langan enjoys his role as a mentor to young medical students who share the same dream that he had, so they too can positively influence the lives of others.

Roxanne Graham, MD

Amid a storm in an impoverished area outside Cape Town, South Africa, Roxanne Graham, then just a high school student, witnessed the impact that a physician could have.

“It was raining and raining, and a family had come to our clinic to tell us that a woman had given birth,” she recalled. “An ambulance couldn’t get close enough, so a doctor, a nurse, and I ran there in the rain to help. At that point, I said ‘wow, this is awesome.’ ”

Dr. Graham spent five months at the clinic, and it was a life-changing experience that she looks back on fondly as she completes her first year of a pediatrics residency at Western Michigan University School of Medicine.

“I was volunteering so I wasn’t earning any money, but I loved going back there every day to see the kids,” she said. “I always knew that I wanted to help kids because they’re the future of the population.”

WMU has been the ideal training location for her, as she’s taken on a wealth of responsibilities as an intern, yet has had plentiful supervision from attending physicians and chief residents. She also appreciates having open communication lines with them, allowing for feedback and for answers to any questions she may have.

“It’s challenging, but I’m really enjoying it,” she said. “I’m glad I matched here because the people are just phenomenal—they’re so kind and helpful.”

Of course, she had to adapt to a cooler climate in Michigan. Dr. Graham earned her Bachelor of Science in human life sciences from University of Stellenbosch in South Africa in 2011, and then a Bachelor of Science with Honours from its Tyberberg Campus a year later. She completed a year of stem cell research, and upon learning about SGU’s campus and credentials at an area information session, she applied and enrolled.

“I just thought that SGU was such an awesome opportunity,” she said. “I’m very adventurous and wanted to see another part of the world, plus I loved that it’s on an island and that I could meet new people.”

Dr. Graham made friends quickly, and through frequent study groups, she navigated her way through the rigorous courseload. On the side, she was a member of the University’s Pediatrics Club, and also carved out time to participate in the popular Thailand selective, during which she and several other SGU students had the opportunity to learn about traditional eastern style medicine and modern medical practices in both Bangkok and Krabi.

The trip had an added benefit. While in Thailand, she met her future husband, who had been visiting on holiday.

Dr. Graham’s upbringing in South Africa and international experience at SGU—between Grenada, Thailand, and the United States for clinical training and residency—has piqued her interest in global medicine. Dr. Graham plans on entering the global medicine track at WMU, which has brought residents to places like Madagascar, Peru, and Cuba in the past.

Her journey has taken her to places all over the world, just as she’d hoped.

“I’m really glad that I took the opportunity to go to SGU,” Dr. Graham said. “I met amazing people along the way, I met my husband, and I feel that if I’d stayed at home, I would not have been able to do what I’ve done and to experience the world like I have. I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be.”

– Brett Mauser

Carmen Avendaño, MD

As a fourth-year emergency medicine/pediatrics resident at University of Maryland Medical Center, Carmen Avendaño, MD SGU ’14, is just where she wants to be. And considering her family’s roots in medicine, perhaps it’s where she was destined to be as well.

Dr. Avendaño hails from a family of “many doctors and engineers”—her great-grandfather, grandfather, father, two uncles, and cousin were all physicians. Now a doctor herself, she is thriving in UMD’s unique combined program, for which she alternates three-month periods in the two fields, allowing her to see a wide array of patients, both young and old.

“Every day is different,” she said. “It’s like a puzzle that you have to figure out. There are some quiet days, but in the ED, there are also shifts when you have four codes come in at once. Sometimes you don’t have a break, but you don’t want a break. You just want to keep it going.”

Born and raised in Chile, Dr. Avendaño went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and neuroscience. She spent a year in the everyday workplace, but didn’t feel fulfilled. That prompted her to jump into medicine with both feet.

“I knew it would take a lot of hours and a lot of work, but I didn’t want to sit at a desk; I had to do something to help people,” Dr. Avendaño said.

She applied at once to St. George’s University, and was accepted to the January 2010 entering class. From the beginning, Dr. Avendaño was drawn to critical care, and joined SGU’s Emergency Medicine Club shortly upon arrival. In addition, she used her experience in neuroscience to tutor students through the Department of Educational Services. Dr. Avendaño also made the most of her leisure time, enjoying Grenada’s many beaches, and playing hockey soccer, and flag football, among other activities.

“My experience at SGU was wonderful,” she said. “The classes and the teachers were great, and it’s such a beautiful island. I met people from all over the world who have the same exact priorities that I did.”

The unique January start time proved beneficial as she continued her studies, giving her extra time to study for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step exams, as well as time to travel before entering residency.

Dr. Avendaño enjoyed SGU and the island so much that she has returned to Grenada four times since graduating to reconnect with former faculty and staff, including Assistant Dean of Students Duncan Kirkby, with whom she plays hockey, and SGU staffer and friend Molly Campbell. Additionally, Dr. Avendaño encouraged her brother, Javier, to enroll in SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. He is scheduled to graduate later this month and walk with his veterinarian cohort in New York City in June.

“SGU gave me all the qualities and resources I needed to get where I needed to be,” Dr. Avendaño said. “I would definitely recommend it.”