SGU Grad Reveals “The Truth About Caribbean Medical Schools”

For Jessica Willett, MD ’13, St. George’s University was her first-choice medical school. The education and experience she had at SGU have propelled her to become an emergency medicine physician at San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp, CA. She set out to learn from an international faculty, with an international student body, and through international experiences like the St. George’s University of Grenada School of Medicine/Northumbria University four-year MD program (formerly the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program), and as a physician and board member for Flying Doctors of America. With philanthropy high on her list of values, she appreciates the opportunity to practice medicine in underserved and underdeveloped communities throughout her medical career.

KevinMD.com recently published her story titled “The Truth About Caribbean Medical Schools,” in which she stated, “I suspected that SGU held unique options that would help me to mold my career down the road, and I wasn’t wrong.”

Medical Education Without Borders: SGU/NU Faculty Present at Prestigious Scientific Conference in Iraq

Three members of St. George’s University of Grenada School of Medicine/Northumbria University (SGU/NU) Four-Year MD Program faculty presented six platform and four poster presentations at the Second International Scientific Conference of Medical Sciences Institute (ISCMS), held on April 10 and 11 at University of Al-Qadisiyah College of Medicine in Diwaniyah, Iraq.

Following visits to NU’s campus in Newcastle, United Kingdom, by the dean, Professor Aqeel Al-Barqawee and nine other Al-Qadisiyah faculty members; Drs. Nahidh Al-Jaberi, clinical instructor; Gordon Bourne, MD ’17 clinical tutor; and James Coey, assistant dean of basic science were invited to deliver keynotes at a conference attended by more than 1,000 participants. Delegates included Professor Emad Aldin Toma, chairman of the Iraqi Medical Council, representatives of the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the Minister of Health, as well as participants from nations including Australia, India, Turkey, and Pakistan.

“The attendance at conference of our international friends from SGU has reinforced our commitment to strengthening academic collaboration between Iraqi medical schools and international counterparts,” said Professor Ferdous Al-Tarahi, president of University of Al-Qadasiyah. “We are now developing plans to send students and faculty members for training in UK hospitals and medical schools.”

Dr. Al-Jaberi is a graduate of Al-Nahrain College of Medicine in Baghdad, and trained as a physician at Al-Kadhimiya Teaching Hospital. He went on to head of Department of Histology and Embryology at the hospital, and is now a discipline manager and clinical instructor at SGU/NU. He pointed out that Iraq has historically been a center of medical education going back to the establishment of Mesopotamia.

“That rich history means that, in spite of the recent past, its medical practitioners and educators remain committed to excellence and keen to engage with the international medical community,” he said.

Dr. Coey is a firm proponent of enabling future physicians to provide evidence-based medicine through “evidence-based medical education.” The advancement of medical education in Iraq has been hindered by the academic isolation brought about by conflict, sanctions, and terrorism over the past 30 years.

“As physicians working in the field of medical education, we have a moral and ethical obligation to share best practice so as to enhance patient outcomes across the globe,” he said.

The SGU/NU program (formerly the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program) was established to provide students with the opportunity to study within and experience a different healthcare environment and culture. Sharing and exchanging knowledge internationally are at the heart of the program’s ethos.

SGU has been an innovator in the field of medical education over the past 40 years, being the first medical school of its kind in the Caribbean. It has now educated more international medical students than all US medical schools combined and contributed more than 16,000 physicians from over 140 countries to the global physician workforce.

The SGU MD program is underpinned by small group sessions of 6-8 students facilitated by medically qualified clinical tutors and instructors. Gordon Bourne, MD ’17, clinical tutor and grandson of Geoffrey Bourne, SGU’s first vice Chancellor, believes that “using clinical tutors not only reinforces the clinically relevant aspects to prehospital studies but also engenders professionalism through near peer mentorship.”

Dreams Fulfilled on 2019 Match Day

 

On Match Day 2019, St. George’s University students and graduates once again demonstrated their aptitude and excellence, with more than 890 securing first-year residency positions in the United States. The numbers are expected to climb in the coming weeks.

Students matched into highly competitive positions in such fields as anesthesiology, child neurology, diagnostic radiology, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, internal medicine/emergency medicine, internal medicine/pediatrics, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pathology, pediatrics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychiatry, surgery, urology, vascular surgery. They will join residency programs in 42 US states and the District of Columbia this summer.

“We couldn’t be prouder of those who are on to the next chapter in their careers,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University. “Each and every student showed great dedication and perseverance in order to clear each hurdle in their journey, and we’re delighted to see that they’ve been rewarded for their efforts.”

 

Scores of students gathered at SGU’s Match Day Luncheons in New York City and Miami, collectively celebrating as the match results were revealed by the National Resident Matching Service. Gaelle Antoine, MD ’19 (expected), described matching into her number one choice – the anesthesiology program at Brown University—as “surreal.”

“I’m still processing that my dream actually came true,” she said. “It’s unbelievable. All the sleepless nights and the ups and downs, that I matched at Brown made it totally worth it.”

Ms. Antoine was raised in Haiti before earning her bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College. When considering options for medical school, she seized the opportunity to enroll at SGU.

“I made such long-lasting friends in Grenada, and met some amazing professors, mentors, and faculty members,” she said. “As much as I want to say that I did a lot of it, SGU really played a big part of my success. The education was tailored for me to make it to the top, which is where I am right now.”

She now joins a diverse residency program that “represents America as well as the best of the population in medicine.”

Al Lore, MD ’19 (expected), will join the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Beaumont Health in Dearborn, MI. As an SGU student, he appreciated the camaraderie among his medical school brethren in Grenada, and felt a similar tight-knit community at Beaumont.

“When I went to interview, as soon as I walked into the department, everyone was so welcoming,” he said. “It felt like such a great working environment to work in for the next four years of my life.”

Like other Class of 2019 members, Mr. Lore waited anxiously for the news to arrive on Match Day. It proved to be well worth the wait.

“This whole week, I was like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Christmas Day to come,” he said. “You can’t wait for it to arrive, and then when that moment hits, it’s just an incredible feeling.”

Adam Lane, MD ’19 (expected), will begin residency with the internal medicine program at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell/Mather before going on to a diagnostic radiology residency at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, NJ. Even for someone who describes himself as “laid-back,” Match Week made for an anxious time. He was thrilled to discover that he’d go into Atlantic Health’s program at Morristown.

Mr. Lane feels that his inquisitive nature is a natural fit with the field, and he’s also looking forward to serving the departments throughout the hospital.

“Some people think you just sit in the dark looking at imaging, but it’s so much more than that,” he said. “You have to have great communication skills. Every single specialty relies on radiology to provide critical insight so that they can better direct their clinical decisions, so you have to be able to communicate effectively. I’m just so excited to get started.”

While some had never visited Grenada prior to medical school, it had long been a second home for Anna Stransky, MD ’19 (expected). Her father, Martin Stransky, graduated from SGU in 1983 before going on a long and successful career in neurology. Anna had first visited there while her father was still a student, and many times over while growing up in Connecticut.

Her own SGU experience has catapulted her to an internal medicine residency position at Stamford Hospital in the aptly named Nutmeg State. It was her top choice.

“The road was long and sometimes bumpy, but I’m very happy to finally have the chance to be a practicing physician,” she said.

Ms. Stransky pointed to her support system as part of the reason for her success. That includes the friends she made on the island.

“SGU started as a ‘mom and pop’ organization, and there remains a very family-oriented vibe around it,” she said. “From day one, everyone is looking out for you. If you ask for help from students or faculty, there’s certainly support there for you.”

 

“The education was tailored for me to make it to the top, which is where I am right now.”

Gaelle Antoine, Year 4 MD Student

 

Like Ms. Stransky, Muaaz Masood, MD ’19 (expected), is headed home. He grew up outside Atlanta, and will begin his internal medicine residency at the Medical College of Georgia this summer.

“Home is a special place for me,” he said. “I felt that especially so at MCG, which solidified that this was going to be the right place for me the next three years.”

Mr. Masood was able to spend time in Georgia, having rotated at DeKalb Medical Center, one of SGU’s 70-plus clinical affiliates. He also took advantage of the expansive network of hospitals at which SGU students rotate, having trained in New York, Florida, and California as well. His travels took him well away from where he’d end up, but also gave him great perspective.

“It was a long journey, but it was 100 percent worth it,” Mr. Masood said. “My dream came to life.”

The Match Day news came just two weeks after 16 SGU students secured first-year residency positions in Canada through the Canadian Resident Match Service. For the complete list of 2019 residency appointments and a broad view of SGU’s track record of placing doctors in the US workforce, visit the SGU Graduate Success page.

– Brett Mauser

Sixteen SGU Graduates Secure Residency Positions in Canada Through CaRMS Match

Aspiring physicians from Canada have long used St. George’s University School of Medicine as a springboard to a career in medicine, and that much was evident this month as 16 SGU students and graduates obtained first-year residency positions through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS).

This summer, SGU alums will begin postgraduate training in fields such as anatomy and pathology, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry, matching into positions at hospitals in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan. Since 2010, more than 140 SGU graduates have earned residency positions in Canada.

“We are delighted that our physician graduates continue to bolster the Canadian healthcare system,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University. “Canada is in need of great doctors across all provinces and specialties, and we wholeheartedly believe that SGU graduates fit that mold.”

 

“I’m so grateful and happy to be going to Ottawa.”

Vanessa Lauzon, Year 4 MD Student

 

It was an exhilarating day for SGU students who are amid their fourth-year clinical training in the United States and Canada. After completing rounds in New York City, Vanessa Lauzon, MD ’19 (expected), waited anxiously with two colleagues as noon approached. She felt confident in her chance to match in Canada, having scored well on Canadian board exams and received numerous residency interviews countrywide.

Ms. Lauzon rejoiced upon learning she had matched at her top-choice institution—the family medicine residency program at the University of Ottawa, just 50 minutes from Montebello, QC, where she grew up.

“It was very nerve-wracking all morning, but then when I saw that I was going home, I cried and immediately called my family,” she said. “It’s life-changing. I can go back to Canada and start to build my life there.”

In addition to proximity to her family, Ms. Lauzon appreciated that the program is bilingual, allowing her to speak her native French, its opportunities for global health, its 1:1 physician/resident ratio, and 25 multidisciplinary sites at which residents’ opportunities to medicine run the full gamut.

The variety mirrors her St. George’s University experience. A graduate of McGill University’s nursing program, Ms. Lauzon opted to join SGU’s Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program , for which students spend the first year of basic sciences at Northumbria University in the UK. Her studies then took her to Grenada, the United States, and Canada, having completed electives in Vancouver, BC; Sudbury, ON; and Montreal, QC.

She is enthused about the career that awaits her in Ottawa, including the opportunity for fellowship after residency. “I’m so grateful and happy to be going to Ottawa,” she said.

 

“SGU got me exactly where I wanted to be—my number one choice.”

Ryan Toews, Year 4 MD Student

 

On the day of the match, Ryan Toews, MD ’19 (expected) worked a 6am – 2pm emergency medicine shift at Ascension St. John’s Hospital in Detroit, MI, on the day of the match, meaning he waited more than two hours to find out where he was headed.

“It was perfect because it kept me busy,” Mr. Toews said. “I didn’t want to check at work because, no matter the result, I didn’t want it to affect patient care.”

The wait proved to be worth it. Mr. Toews was thrilled to discover he had matched into the family medicine residency program at the University of Saskatchewan’s site in Swift Current. He’ll practice just two hours from his hometown of Medicine Hat, AB.

After earning his nursing degree from the University of Calgary, Mr. Toews had applied twice to Canadian medical schools. Instead of delaying his dream further, he applied to and enrolled in SGU’s Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program, where he appreciated the small class sizes and introduction to the UK healthcare system. In addition to a strong basic sciences knowledge gained in the UK and Grenada, he prospered during two years of clinical training at St. John’s, an experience he called “superb.”

Now he’ll use the knowledge and skills he gained to treat citizens in and around Swift Current.

“SGU got me exactly where I wanted to be—my number one choice,” he said. “Even if I’d gone to medical school in Canada, I’d have picked Swift Current as my number one.”

 

“To end up exactly where I’d hoped to be is almost surreal. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”

Etai Shachar, Year 4 MD Student

 

Mr. Toews worked side by side with Etai Shachar, MD ’19 (expected), for much of his time in Detroit, although on the day of the CaRMS match, Mr. Shachar was in Toronto for an emergency medicine elective. As it turned out, that’s where he’ll continue his medical career as he matched into the University of Toronto’s EM program.

When he began his medical school journey, he hoped it would unfold just as it did.

“U of T has been my number one choice for quite some time,” Mr. Shachar said. “To end up exactly where I’d hoped to be is almost surreal. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”

Born and raised in Toronto, he double-majored in biology and medical sciences at the University of Western Ontario before obtaining his master’s degree in biotechnology at the University of Guelph. He chose to attend SGU because of its track record for student success in the US and Canada, and after hearing positive reviews from family friends who had graduated from SGU and are now practicing in New Jersey.

After two years in Grenada, Mr. Schachar strengthened his critical care resume with rotations in New York City and Detroit, which he said set him up well for Canadian residency interviews.

“As a student, I made sure to take advantage of the spectrum of hospitals that SGU has access to,” he said. “I really appreciated the diversity of cases that I saw, and learned to love and thrive on the energy and pace of the ER.”

The CaRMS match came two weeks ahead of the United States match, which takes place on Friday, March 15. In 2018, SGU students and graduates obtained a record number of residency positions, with 941 secured in the US alone. Visit our 2019 residency listing page for a complete list of SGU physicians who will begin their residencies this summer.

– Brett Mauser

Robert Alig Named New Vice President of Alumni Affairs

In November, St. George’s University named Robert Alig as its new vice president of alumni affairs, a role for which he looks forward to connecting with the more than 20,000 graduates across the Schools of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Arts and Sciences, and Graduate Studies. We sat down with Mr. Alig to discuss his background and the goals that he has for SGU and its alumni.

St. George’s University: What elements of your background sets you up to take the reins of alumni affairs at SGU?

Bob Alig: I was the assistant vice president of alumni relations at the University of Pennsylvania for seven years, overseeing alumni programming and engagement for its four undergraduate schools and all graduate programs. Prior to that, I was the director of MBA admissions and financial aid at the Wharton School, for which I was able to travel to 35 countries and share the message of a place that, as an alum, meant a great deal to me. I saw firsthand the energy, commitment, and enthusiasm of Penn’s alumni, not only to give back in terms of philanthropy, but also their time, talent and enthusiasm.

Collectively, I saw what we could accomplish when working in partnership, and what the advocacy of Penn alumni meant for the momentum of the university, anchored in strengthening its reputation and expanding its international footprint. I think this experience dovetails beautifully with what I’ve observed and learned during my brief tenure here.   SGU is on a remarkable trajectory and it has so much to be proud of. I am committed to an alumni relations effort that reflects the momentum and the diversity of the University.

SGU: What do you hope to accomplish in the first few months?

BA: I think it’s vital to connect with alumni to understand their own paths to SGU and what made it a special place for them. Listening and learning now, and agreeing on a plan that leverages our unique strengths will position us for success and continued momentum.   

It’s also important to help alumni understand how SGU can support them in their careers, in their continuing education, and at the same time, for them to advocate for SGU. In years past, education was thought of as an episodic period of time—you’re a student for four years and you get your degree. Now, I think it’s much more about a lifetime of learning and engagement. SGU can and should be the intellectual home of its alumni.

Sometimes I think about my role as helping several thousand current SGU students to feel like alumni, and helping 16,000 SGU alumni feel like students, reconnecting them with their experiences and what’s currently happening on our True Blue campus.

SGU: What do you view as the biggest challenge that faces alumni affairs here and in general?

BA: I think getting my arms around alumni data here is very similar to the challenge I faced when I started at Penn. Every higher education institution struggles with capturing data and using it effectively.

SGU: How can staying connected with SGU help our alumni in their careers?

BA: It makes perfect sense that we could keep our alumni engaged so that they can learn from each other and tap into each other’s networks and experiences. The pace of change in our work and personal lives has escalated significantly. The practice of radiology—or any field—has evolved dramatically in the last 15 years, so it’s important that our graduates not only stay current, but set the standard for the future through continuing education and engagement with their alma mater.

SGU: In what ways are you looking to connect with SGU alumni?

BA: There is nothing better than meeting SGU alumni in person, ideally on the True Blue campus, but I’ve also connected with alumni via social media, phone, and email, and want to continue to do so. I want to quickly figure out how we can connect and make it easy for them to stay in touch with me, their fellow alumni, and SGU.

SAS Grads Pen Children’s Books to Inspire Grenada’s Youth

Photo courtesy Grenada Schools Inc.

The newest reading options on shelves throughout Grenada’s 56 primary schools come courtesy of a weeklong writers workshop coordinated by the non-profit organization Room to Read and Grenada Schools Inc. Of the seven books recently published, three were written by St. George’s University School of Arts and Sciences graduates.

Alyssa Bierzynski, BA SGU ’08, Kissandra Smith, BSc SGU ’09, and Christal Radix, BSc SGU ’13, celebrated when their books were handed over to school directors at a ceremony held at Grenada Trade Center in October. The mission of the initiative is to strengthen the foundation of early literacy by building and improving libraries at primary schools in Grenada and its sister islands, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

Twelve Grenadians were invited to participate in the workshop, during which they were instructed on all elements of book writing. Scripts for the stories were created, edited, and finalized in October 2017, and came to life a month later with the work of artists participating in a local illustrators workshop.

Although each SAS grad entered with at least some modicum of writing experience, the workshop proved challenging.

“I’ve written many press releases and articles, but writing for children isn’t anything like writing for adults,” Ms. Bierzynski said. “You have to get straight to the point and let the action happen.”

“We were trying to capture children’s imaginations with these books, so in order to do so, we couldn’t write from an adult’s perspective; we almost had to pretend to be a child again,” added Ms. Smith.

In “Keara’s Kite”, Ms. Smith told the story of a young girl who tried relentlessly to build a kite that could fly high during kite season in Grenada. She named the book after her 4-year-old niece, who Ms. Smith can already see shares her sense of adventure.

“I wanted to create a story that younger nieces and nephews could learn from and hopefully inspire them to go on and do bigger things,” Ms. Smith said.

Ms. Bierzynski penned “Carla Dances Soca”, a 24-page story about a young ballerina who strove to learn a new dance despite her friends’ skepticism and jeers. The author admits that Carla’s background as a ballerina mirrors her own upbringing in Grenada, where she attended Westmorland Junior School.

“I was always walking on my tippy toes as a child,” said Ms. Bierzynski, who’s now an instructor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at SGU.

According to Ms. Bierzynski, her story came together during the workshop hours but she continued to refine it each night afterward. It underwent many waves of revisions, including cutting a once 600-word story down to just 200.

“I am really excited that we have written a series of culturally relevant picture books for children,” she added. “As an English teacher, it breaks my heart when a child struggles with reading or can’t identify his or her favorite book. Being part of this project shows them that reading can be fun. Also, with Carla doing ballet at the beginning of the book, it exposes them to a world that they may not have been exposed to before.”

Ms. Radix, who earned her degree in tourism and hospitality management in 2013, created a story titled “Red Car vs. Blue Ball”. Because Grenada Schools Inc., is a not-for-profit organization, the books cannot be sold at retail stores or online, but each author expressed gratitude for being allowed to play a role in shaping Grenada’s future. The workshop was the second of its kind in Grenada. In 2015, Grenada’s authors wrote six new books that were put on schools’ libraries throughout the country in 2016.

“It was a very rewarding experience,” Ms. Smith said. “Writing a children’s book is something that I have dreamed about doing for a long time.”

– Brett Mauser

From U-2 Pilot to OB/GYN: A Veteran Reflects on Her Career Path

When Cholene Espinoza, MD SGU ’15, looks back on her childhood, she remembers imperfections and failure.

“I was always kind of a screw-up as a kid,” said Espinoza, chief resident in Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “I started first grade when I was five, so I was always feeling behind and was often put in the corner for being disruptive in class. I was independent and never really fit in to the traditional educational system.”

For years, Espinoza struggled to focus academically and socially, but the summer before seventh grade, she had an epiphany: “I remember telling my mom I didn’t want to be a loser anymore.”

She hasn’t let her mom down. Espinoza’s stellar career and life have played like a Hollywood movie with her roles including—an elite spy plane pilot; a passenger originally scheduled to board one of the ill-fated planes on 9/11; a wartime journalist; a Hurricane Katrina volunteer; a published author and, finally an OB-GYN who has a profound reverence for human life.

As Veterans Day approaches, Espinoza, an Air Force veteran, reflected on the meaning of the day and how her own service changed her life and set her on her path to becoming a physician.

“What is would say to veterans is, ‘thank you. We’ve served together, you kept me safe and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate you in every way,” Espinoza said.

Espinoza’s Military Career Takes Flight

At 17, Espinoza enrolled in the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In the 1980s, when she was a young cadet, the Academy limited female enrollment to just 10 percent of a class. (With those gender restrictions now gone, last year’s freshman class at the Academy was about a quarter female.)

“Like anything in life, there were moments when I struggled, and things or comments happened that shouldn’t have,” she said. “But it taught me to surround myself with supportive, good people and to work through the hardships.”

A Path Discovered

But more hardships were to come. Around Christmas of her sophomore year, Espinoza’s father died. The shock and grief soon led her to an unexpected, but clear path.

“I was taking a course in glider flying and it enabled me to get over my father’s death on some level,” she said. “Flying came natural to me when nothing else in my life had.”

After graduating, Espinoza served as a flying instructor for four years, and later, she was selected as a U-2 spy plane pilot for the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California–the only U-2 squadron in the world.

U-2 spy planes are single-jet engine, ultra-light gliders that maneuver on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere. Designed to avoid enemy detection, the planes are equipped with sophisticated instrumentation that provides vital intelligence, day or night and in all-weather.

In a 12-hour mission, the aircraft can capture extraordinarily detailed imagery of a country the size of Iraq. And while much about the aircraft remains classified, Espinoza points out the planes do far more than reconnaissance—they also aid in peacekeeping and directing humanitarian aid.

Flying solo missions in U-2 plane can be an otherworldly, almost spiritual experience, said Espinoza. Wrapped in the cocoon of her space gear, she can sometimes still feel the stillness of the open sky and the brilliance of the earth.

“I would fly across Europe all night and it felt as though I could just reach out and touch the stars,” she said.

But along with the beauty came harsh reminders of the chaos on the ground.

“I would fly over beautiful civilizations like France and Germany, but when I made it to my target areas, it would be pitch black,” she said. “Then, I would see a flash of light and know it was a blast, and that meant someone is killing or someone is dying. It always gave me reverence for how fragile human life is and how unjust war is.”

Espinoza observed war from the quiet remove of a spy plane, but with each mission she would feel a stronger urge to assist those affected on the ground.

“I couldn’t directly help people from the stratosphere and that propelled me to eventually get out of the Air Force cockpit,” she said.

From Above 70,000 Feet to 30,000 Feet

Espinoza left the Air Force for a career in commercial flying with United Airlines and then Emirates Airlines–allowing her to travel to every continent except Antarctica.

“As a commercial pilot, I had to be broken of my ‘single pilot mindset’ and not disregard input from others,” said Espinoza. “Success was based on the efficacy and quality of the entire crew.”

Espinoza was working for United Airlines on September 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked four aircrafts and slammed two of them into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and the fourth in a Pennsylvania countryside.

She was not scheduled to fly the fourth plane hijacked that day, but was supposed to be a passenger. The flight boarded in Newark, and was supposed to land in San Francisco. It never made it.

“I was living in New York City at the time and had just accepted a bid to be a captain out of San Francisco,” said Espinoza. “I planned to take the flight as a passenger to find a new home in San Francisco, but the crew desk realized I had gone over my flight limitation hours, so the first leg of my trip was cancelled and I wasn’t on Flight 93.”

Espinoza’s United Airlines colleague and former Academy classmate, Leroy Homer, Jr., was co-piloting the airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

“I knew Leroy since I was 17 and had just seen him in London on a layover,” said Espinoza. “He was happier and more content than I’d ever known him to be, showing me pictures of his daughter and wife. I often think of him that day in Hyde Park, with his smile, wishing I’d been there for him on that flight.”

Espinoza’s Service Shifts from Sky to Ground

The events of 9/11 soon led her to take a pair of three-month leave from United Airlines to cover the Iraq war as a civilian radio journalist. Her first tour was with the Marine Corps and the second, and third with the Army. Espinoza worked as an embedded journalist for Talk Radio News Service (now Talk Media News), which gave her an opportunity to come face-to-face with war—both its injustice and its heroism.

“I departed Iraq from mobile hospital in Iraq and there were surgeons trying to save children who had limbs blown off from mines and ammunition,” said Espinoza. “The medical teams were trying to make something right out of something so horribly wrong. When you’re in the middle of a war, you see the destruction and insanity of it, and then you see these beautiful acts.”

Espinoza witnessed how war changes people.

“In order for me to overcome what war had done to me, I needed to engage and fix what was broken,” she said. “That’s what inspired me to leave the cockpit for good and directly take care of people by switching careers from pilot and journalist, to doctor.”

But before taking care of people as a doctor, Espinoza’s desire to serve brought her to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

“On our first trip to Mississippi, my spouse and I connected with a small community and fell in love with the people and their struggle,” said Espinoza. “We realized how many people drowned from the storm because they didn’t know how to swim, since there were no community centers or public swimming pools.”

So, the couple made it their mission to change the community’s access to water safety by raising money to build a public swimming pool. Amid rebuilding and spending all of her down time and vacation days on the Gulf Coast, Espinoza penned a novel, Through the Eye of the Storm: A Book Dedicated to Rebuilding What Katrina Washed Away.

“I realized each of us has something to give and that gift is desperately needed in our world,” said Espinoza. “For me, being gay had not stopped me from serving two of my greatest loves in life, God and country. This book is the story of my life, the lives of truly heroic Americans and the transformation of my spirit that took place unexpectedly in this small Mississippi town.”

The proceeds raised from the book, which she wrote and published in less than one year, supported the rebuilding of one of the most hurricane-ravaged communities on the Gulf Coast. The writing process helped Espinoza accept herself completely.

“It wasn’t until I was out of the service that I wrestled with my own identity,” said Espinoza. “In the service, I didn’t have relationships with women, I focused on flying. I had tried to deny that part of who I was but realized through the writing and humanitarian process a stronger desire to live authentically.”

Becoming a Doctor: Her Final Mission

In 2009, after what many would consider an already fulfilling and long career, Espinoza started her journey of becoming a doctor. Then 45 years-old, Espinoza started over with pre-med and then graduated from St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada, West Indies at the age of 50.

“I have the distinction of starting menopause and residency at the same time,” Espinoza jokes.

Espinoza started her residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai in June 2015 and is scheduled to finish this coming June. She has been accepted to be re-commissioned into the military as a Reserve U.S. Army OB-GYN. She can be deployed to any medical surgical unit, nationally or internationally.

“Military medicine is what first inspired me, but I thought I was too old for the military,” said Espinoza. “But they desperately need doctors.”

While she’s not serving on Reserve duty, Espinoza plans to work in South Sudan, a struggling country where she has been working and traveling for over six years–first being trained by the South Sudanese when she was a medical student–not teaching and practicing as a doctor.

“With each trip, I can do more, because I’ve learned more here at Cedars-Sinai.”

Above all, residency has been the challenge of her lifetime.

“With medicine and obstetrics specifically, there are no permissible errors,” said Espinoza. “It’s the same as flying jets–there is a certain level of intensity and desire to execute perfection, which drives and motivates me to work harder every single day.”

But, as Espinoza knows, whether in war or in medicine, mistakes are inevitable.

“I start each day with a sense of humility and respect for human life and for people across all socioeconomic levels,” she said. “That humility comes from seeing a lot of bad things happen and knowing I, too, have made mistakes. But every day is an opportunity to try to do better, let go and forgive ourselves.”

And at a time in her life when many people would be slowing down, Espinoza is relishing her uncharted journey ahead.

“I have been blessed with a rich life and experiences, but without question–the most magical, beautiful thing I have ever experienced in my life or career is being in the room when a baby is born,” she said. “Any pain, loss, or hurt parents may have previously felt evaporates the split second their baby is born. Witnessing and participating in birth is the privilege of a lifetime.”

This story, video and photos originally appeared on the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center website. They have been published here with permission from Cedars-Sinai.

SGU Grad on Dr. Oz: New FDA-Approved Drug Limits Migraines

Shivang Joshi, MD/MPH SGU ’08, appeared on FOX’s “Dr. Oz” show on October 26 to explain how clinical trials of the drug Emgality—recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration—have shown a drastic reduction of migraine frequency in patients. In one study, he explained that 1 in 7 patients with Emgality were migraine-free for a month, versus 1 in 16 for those using a placebo.

View the entire segment by visiting the Dr. Oz website.

Dr. Joshi came to SGU from St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions. He earned his Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health at SGU before going on to complete a neurology residency at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. He then completed a fellowship in headache medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s John R. Graham Headache Center, while also serving as an instructor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School.

SOM Alumni Association Set to Host Art of Medicine CME in March

This March, the St. George’s University School of Medicine Alumni Association (SOMAA) will take a closer look at the beauty and methods of medicine, welcoming graduates and other medical professionals to Grenada for the Art of Medicine 2019 continuing medical education (CME) conference.

Held in association with the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), the conference will take place from March 4-7 at the Radisson Grenada Beach Resort on Grand Anse Beach. According to SOMAA President Bruce Bonanno, MD SGU ’83, it’s an opportunity for alumni to further harvest their passion for medicine, on an island where the foundation for their careers was built.

“Medicine is an art, not just a profession driven by numbers and statistics,” said SOMAA President Bruce Bonanno, MD SGU ’83. “This conference is a great way for physicians to reconnect with medicine and to get back to their roots.”

Presentation topics cover a wide range of medical realms, including ophthalmology, emergency medicine, hyperbaric therapy, and medicine in Grenada (complete schedule to be finalized soon). By partaking in the CME, attendees are eligible to receive 16 CME credits.

In addition to academic presentations, the conference will also feature activities such as island and campus tours, dune buggy tours, a catamaran sunset cruise, and alumni grand rounds.

“The conference also allows attendees the opportunity to explore the island and enjoy everything it has to offer,” Dr. Bonanno said. “Those of us who studied in Grenada know full well how wonderful of a place it really is.”

Dr. Bonanno also stated that they are looking to welcome members from the January 1979 entering class, the School of Medicine’s fifth-ever class of students.

To learn more about the conference or to register, visit sgualumni.org.

MD Grad Returns to Her Roots

St. George’s University graduate Jennifer Favre started as a bookkeeper at East End Pediatrics when she was just a college student. Twelve years later, with a medical degree to her credit, Dr. Favre has rejoined the practice, working alongside her mentor who helped her begin working toward her dream of becoming a physician.

“Gail has always advised all of her patients that this is their medical home,” Dr. Favre said of the practice owner, Dr. Gail Schonfeld. “You come into the practice, we will take care of you. If you have a question, you get one of four physicians on the phone within a matter of minutes, 24 hours a day. When we’re not here at night, somebody still calls them back. . . . That’s something you can’t find everywhere. And that’s the kind of medicine I want to practice.”

Read more about Dr. Favre by visiting the East Hampton Star website.