SOM grad returns to train the next generation of physicians

Before deciding to attend medical school at St. George’s University, Michael Keenaghan, MD ’06, considered entering the field of astrophysics with hopes of becoming an astronaut. He had been filled with a desire to both “know” everything and to help people. However, it was a family friend and former chair of pediatrics who recommended he apply to SGU, which inspired him on the path to specializing in pediatric critical care.

Not only does Dr. Keenaghan have a passion for his specialty of choice, that passion also extends to teaching the next generation of medical students. Since completing his residency training at SUNY Downstate (he served an additional year as chief resident) and his fellowship at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital Columbia University, Dr. Keenaghan has been involved in academic medicine. At NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, where he worked for the past eight years, he was the associate director of pediatric critical care and associate chief academic officer. While there he developed and managed a pediatric simulation center focused on developing trainees’ procedural skills.

In 2013, he took on an associate professor position at SGU where he assisted students at patients’ bedsides at Kings County hospital. Three years later, he was appointed associate medical director of education and became involved with advising students initially with SGU’s Office of Career Guidance and then through its onsite student advisors.

But little did he know that his two passions would eventually lead him back to Grenada one day. Earlier this year, Dr. Keenaghan accepted a full time position within the School of Medicine as an assistant dean of students, moving with his family back to the island. In this new position, Dr. Keenaghan manages SOM’s academic advisors for clinical students. He discussed with SGU News his new role, how it feels to also teach Term 5 SOM students, and his plans to work with Grenada General Hospital to support and grow its pediatric critical care service.

St. George’s University: Can you share why you wanted to come back to Grenada and work at your alma mater?

Dr. Keenaghan: I was given a great opportunity to help students achieve their academic goals, as well as provide pediatric critical care support for the children of Grenada.

One of the best rewards in being an intensivist, after caring for an extremely sick child—a day, a week, or a month later when all the lines and breathing tubes have been removed—they smile. It is a priceless moment.

SGU: What are you most passionate about in your work?

Dr. Keenaghan: Each doctor, over the course of their career can contribute to about 2,000-2,500 extra patient lives lived. In pediatric intensive care, if I do my job well, I may contribute far more since my patients are so young. However, being able to help many more caring people become doctors every year, multiples that logarithmically. Alone I can help some, but together we can help the world. Being a teacher and assistant dean at SGU truly makes that possible.

SGU: Share what your experience was like at SGU and its impact on your life?

Dr. Keenaghan: I met my future wife a month before moving to Grenada in 2002.  Being 2,100 miles apart, she kept me focused on my studies and not distracted. She was my greatest support when school was the hardest. I think without her I wouldn’t be a doctor, but without SGU there would be no us, and our five amazing boys. Grenada gave me my first two dogs, lifelong friends throughout the world, and now is the place that I call home. I’d say it had a pretty large impact.

SGU: How well do you feel that SGU prepared you for the next step in your journey?

Dr. Keenaghan: I felt extremely prepared. I learned to persevere when things may not be in my favor, which has helped me on to all the next steps. From those lessons I learned the power of second chances, both in my own experiences and in my patients.

SGU: What plans do you have for the future in your new role?

Dr. Keenaghan: They are too numerous to count, but I’ll start with growing the Clinical Academic Advising Development and Support team and services to continue to help students succeed. Also, providing support to the healthcare professionals at the Grenada General Hospital in any way they need.

SGU: What advice would you give to prospective students who are considering applying to SGU?

Dr. Keenaghan: Don’t hesitate to follow your dream. Dedicating yourself to study and becoming a physician means giving up a few things for a few years. While pursuing your MD there are no immediate rewards along the way, but the long-term ones are worth every minute and every penny. Sitting in biochemistry learning about mitochondria for the third time, may not be the most fun, but standing in the ICU remembering that methylene blue improves mitochondrial respiration and starting it on a patient with severe shock, then saving their life, that’s worth it.

 

 

– Ray-Donna Peters

 

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A desire to make an impact leads SGU grad to become an expert in LGBTQIA+ healthcare

Asa Radix, MD ’88, PhD, MPH decided to pursue medicine out of a desire to offer patient-centered healthcare in an often-overlooked community in need.  Dr. Radix’s career has focused on LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Ally, plus) health and policy and being able to ensure patients receive quality care that is respectful, non-judgmental, and meets the unique needs of members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Dr. Radix is originally from Grenada and attended SGU on one of the first Grenadian scholarships. They currently serve as senior director of research and education at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City—which has a mission to serve LGBTQIA+ communities and people with HIV.

In addition to their work at Callen-Lorde, Dr. Radix is a clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University and holds faculty appointments at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Yale University. Over the years, they’ve developed expertise in transgender health and contributed to several US and international clinical practice guidelines and textbooks.

In honor of pride month, SGU News spoke with Dr. Radix to find out more about their experience providing care to the LGBTQIA+ community and the journey to becoming an expert in this field.

St. George’s University: Why did you choose your specialty?

Dr. Radix: I trained in internal medicine and then completed a fellowship in infectious disease. Infectious disease is a broad specialty, but it is a good field for people who like clinical practice as well as research. I like the diversity of the specialty. You can focus on many different areas such as travel medicine, global health, antibiotic stewardship, and emerging infectious diseases as well as a choice of inpatient or outpatient settings.

I mainly focus on HIV and Hepatitis C but still see patients with a wide variety of issues.

SGU: What are some unique medical needs of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

Dr. Radix: Members of the LGBTQIA+ community also have other social identities or groups to which they belong with varying health priorities. There are some issues that are common for all, such as difficulty in finding respectful healthcare providers as well as frequently facing discrimination in health settings. As a result, LGBTQIA+ individuals may underutilize cancer screening interventions, and there are often higher rates of substance abuse, including tobacco use, which is probably related to experiencing social stressors such as interpersonal and structural discrimination. In addition, it is important for medical providers to offer appropriate HIV/STI screenings and HIV prevention interventions (e.g., pre-exposure prophylaxis) to those who are eligible.

SGU: What training can physicians interested in working in LGBTQIA+ healthcare participate in?

Dr. Radix: There isn’t a specialty in LGBTQIA+ health. However, there are healthcare environments with a mission to care for LGBTQIA+ individuals, such as health centers like Callen-Lorde or dedicated clinics at other institutions. Many require training in a primary care specialty, such as internal medicine, family medicine, or pediatrics. Usually, these centers provide training in LGBTQIA+ health since most incoming providers have not had adequate experience during their medical school or residency training.

There are also organizations, such as GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality and The LGBT Health Workforce Conference that hold annual meetings for clinicians who are interested in this field.

SGU: When you look back at your professional journey to this point, what stands out to you most as being the most formative experiences?

Dr. Radix: I trained in the early 1990s when HIV was one of the most important and prevalent health issues that we saw. It was also a time when there were few therapeutic options available. Taking care of individuals living with HIV was a major motivation for pursuing a fellowship in infectious disease.

SGU: How did your experience at SGU help prepare you for your career?

Dr. Radix: I was fortunate to do most of my clinical rotations in the United Kingdom and to be exposed to a diverse student body throughout my SGU experience. The love of travel continued, and I completed a diploma in tropical medicine in London during my infectious disease fellowship as well as a Master of Philosophy in epidemiology at Cambridge, later leading to a PhD at Columbia University.

—Sarah Stoss

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SGU School of Medicine Holds Graduation Ceremonies for Class of 2022

St. George’s University School of Medicine celebrated its 41st commencement this weekend in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“The faculty, staff, and administration of St. George’s University extend our heartiest congratulations to the class of 2022,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of SGU. “Our graduates have accomplished so much, and we’re thrilled to send them on their way into careers as physicians.”

The St. George’s University class of 2022 will join a network of more than 19,000 alumni practicing in the United States and around the world. Later this month, they’ll begin residency programs in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia in several competitive specialties, including surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. SGU also sends many graduates into high-need primary care specialties, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine.

A significant share of SGU alumni work in medically underserved areas, and many have served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SGU is the largest source of licensed physicians for the entire U.S. workforce. The country could face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“Our graduates are well-equipped to deliver top-notch care — and to tackle the most pressing problems facing our healthcare system,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, vice chancellor of SGU. “They will no doubt have a long-lasting positive impact on the lives of countless patients.”

 

 

 

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SGU Confers Degrees to School of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2022

St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine inaugurated a new class of veterinarians at commencement this weekend in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“We’re delighted to recognize the achievements of the class of 2022,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the SGU School of Veterinary Medicine. “These new veterinarians have demonstrated perseverance and dedication that will serve them well as they transition into careers in animal healthcare.”

The class of 2022 will enter the workforce at a time when demand for veterinary services is surging. The United States will need up to 41,000 more veterinarians by 2030 to meet the healthcare needs of companion animals alone.

In addition to caring for household pets, the newest graduates of St. George’s School of Veterinary Medicine will take on various roles essential to public health, such as studying how diseases jump from animals to humans and ensuring that our food supply can keep up with demand.

St. George’s offers students an international approach to veterinary medicine. It maintains partnerships with universities in several other countries, including the United States and Canada. Students also have access to a number of unique research opportunities in Grenada.

“The need for highly skilled veterinarians has never been clearer,” Dr. Olson said . “We’re looking forward to watching our newest crop of graduates meet this demand and create positive change in the animal—and human—world.”

 

 

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Ukraine-born grad travels to Poland to help refugees in need

International medical and humanitarian assistance groups and volunteers from around the world have been traveling to border cities to provide aid and medical care to Ukraine refugees, including Dr. Mariya Vengrenyuk, a 2016 graduate of St. George’s University School of Medicine.

Dr. Vengrenyuk splits her time as a travel hospitalist and as a clinical investigator working on vaccine trials for pharmaceutical product development. She was born in the Ukraine and moved to the US when she was nine.

Feeling an emotional pull to help her native country’s people, Dr. Vengrenyuk has traveled to the Poland-Ukraine border at Przemysl with SSF-Rescuers Without Borders, a medical relief agency dedicated to help people in distress. Following her work with SSF, she will also visit her hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine with the organization, Revived Soldiers Ukraine.

Before leaving, Dr. Vengrenyuk shared why she wanted to offer her services in this capacity and how her training at SGU prepared her for this journey.

St. George’s University: How did you get involved with both organizations?

Dr. Vengrenyuk: I learned about SSF through my colleagues. A few doctors from Philadelphia that I know from residency training volunteered with SSF in March 2022.

As for Revived Soldiers Ukraine, I have been volunteering with this organization for the last few years. I traveled to Ukraine in the summer of 2021 twice. We opened a physical therapy rehabilitation in Irpin (a city outside Kyiv that was heavily shelled recently). Our rehab still stands now that Russian troops retreated from this area.

We have been bringing wounded soldiers to the US. Our organization president finds hospitals who treat them pro-bono or we purchase health insurance to help cover surgery costs.

 

 

SGU: What are you expecting to see when you get there? What kinds of tasks/treatments/aid will you give to refugees?

Dr. Vengrenyuk: I think my role will be providing urgent care type of evaluations. I speak Ukrainian, Russian, and I can understand Polish—so I can help translate medical information.

With SSF, this is a medical tent clinic that is located right at the border. Many refugees are people who left their home with minimal belongings. Some will have missed their medications for weeks. I expect to see patients with chest pain, possible URIs, diabetics with hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, uncontrolled blood pressure, minor wounds, skin infections, etc. I know that many women have been sexually abused and some are pregnant. This is difficult to talk about, but we may be the first health personnel they encounter after these terrible experiences. I will also see many people with acute stress disorders, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

SGU: How have you emotionally prepared for the trip?

Dr. Vengrenyuk: I am glad I did not fly there in February or March. At that point I was in a state of shock, I was crying every day. I needed to learn to cope with the war myself before I could go and provide care to others impacted.

SGU: Why do you feel it was important for you to volunteer in this capacity?

Dr. Vengrenyuk: I am in a position to help. I speak the language. I understand where these people come from. I have medical training. It may not be combat training—but I think any medical background will help during moments like these. I am young, healthy, I do not have a family of my own, I feel I am in a position to give back. I can also help financially. I was lucky to have moved to the US at age nine when my parents won the green card. Had we still lived in Ukraine—we could have been the ones crossing this same border as refugees.

SGU: How has your training at SGU prepared you for this type of medical assistance?

Dr. Vengrenyuk: SGU was an incredible experience, I am very proud that I went to SGU. It opened a world of opportunities for me. First of all, going to Grenada was the first time I left my parent’s home. In college, I lived with my parents. It was a brave first step to pursue my dream and try something unknown.

I think my SGU experience prepared me to always be ready for new opportunities and to learn to adapt quickly. I made many connections at SGU with doctors who now practice all over the world. I stay in touch with several SGU graduates.

SGU: What kind of characteristics/traits does a doctor need to have to function in a war-zone environment?

Dr. Vengrenyuk: I think you need to be brave, rational, and selfless. I love people in general and if I can lessen their pain, whether physical or emotional, I will try my best to do it.

Also, you need to be compassionate but not emotional. You need to be ready to see and hear terrible stories but not let it impact you to the point where you cannot help. You need to be open to learn new skills quickly.

SGU: Anything else you would like to share about the trip?

Dr. Vengrenyuk: I plan to do more trips like this, hopefully I can go back to the Ukraine in August.

 

 

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

 

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SAS Alumna Finds New Purpose in Life

As a part-time student and full-time employee at St. George’s University, Samanta Johnson, BSc ’22, always knew that if she obtained her bachelor’s degree, more doors would open for her professionally, allowing her to create more purpose in her life.

This month, Ms. Johnson graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in management. The grad is about to embark on the next step in her professional career.

On July 1, she begins her new role at the University, as coordinator of campus life within the Office of the Dean of Students. Ms. Johnson has worked for the past 13 years within the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pharmacology—where she started off as a secretary and was later promoted to executive secretary within the same department.

She shared with SGU News that completing her degree at SGU has been the greatest accomplishment of her career so far and how it has boosted her desire to grow both personally and professionally.

St. George’s University: What are you most looking forward to accomplishing in your new role?

Ms. Johnson: As I transition into my new position, I will have the opportunity to assist within the areas of planning and oversight of new student orientation, Family Weekend, White Coat Ceremonies, student organizations, and SOM College events. Also, with everyone being back on campus next term, I’m looking forward to having more in-person interactions and cultivating an even more collaborative environment as I support with the recruitment, training, and supervision of various student assistance teams.

SGU: Share what your student experience was like at SGU and its impact on your life. 

Ms. Johnson: Being a student at SGU has been one of the defining moments of my life—one that has brought me many opportunities. The University is extremely student centric and there is a breadth of support services that students have at their disposal, for both new and seasoned students. From inception, students can learn all that SGU has to offer in the Introduction to University life presentation, which provides vital information to first-year students to ensure their success.

I believe that regardless of your current position, there is always more to learn and once you invest in your professional growth it creates self-awareness, tenacity, humility, and the like. Being a student at St. George’s has pushed me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to think differently—in a positive way.

 

“I believe that regardless of your current position, there is always more to learn and once you invest in your professional growth it creates self-awareness, tenacity, humility, and the like. Being a student at St. George’s has pushed me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to think differently—in a positive way.”

 

SGU: How did it feel to walk across the stage at commencement?

Ms. Johnson: For me, graduation signified that I completed a certain period in my life. Not having to consistently attend classes anymore, I felt as if I was leaving behind an organized set of routines, and it was a bittersweet occasion for me. Yet, on the day itself I felt honored and accomplished. The chance to walk across the stage and become an SGU alumna brought feelings of happiness, excitement, and pride.

Throughout the years, there was always a goal in my mind to earn my bachelor’s degree. Completing that degree and graduating with honors, whilst being a full-time employee has been my greatest accomplishment in my career thus far. My goal in the future is to continue to improve myself, continue reaching for greatness, and becoming an expert in my field.

SGU: How well do you feel that SGU prepared you for the next step in your journey?

Ms. Johnson: SGU has aided me in developing my confidence and assertiveness. I am much surer of myself, and I believe I can accomplish everything I set my mind to. The University also instilled in me a sense of wanting to achieve more and not settling for less.

SGU: What would you say to an aspiring student considering going to SGU? 

Ms. Johnson: I believe prospective students will have a unique opportunity to study and learn in a multicultural setting that will benefit them both academically and personally. They will also be immersed in a professional environment from the very beginning of their journey.

– Ray-Donna Peters

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SGU Alum Named Attending Physician of the Year at UCSD

Kunal Agrawal, MD ’11, recently received the honor of “Attending Physician of the Year for 2022” from the University of California at San Diego. The California native is currently associate professor of neurosciences at UC San Diego Health System and program director of the Vascular Neurology Fellowship.

To be considered for Attending Physician of the Year, Dr. Agrawal had to be nominated by a colleague and evaluated by a Medical Executive Committee who then selects one attending physician out of the pool of nominations from within the UCSD Health System.

When asked about the award, Dr. Agrawal stated, “I am honored and mostly I am humbled. This award caught me off guard, but confirms I have chosen a great career path that continues to motivate me.”

Dr. Agrawal started out in bioengineering but found himself drawn to neuroscience classes while pursuing his undergraduate degree at UC San Diego. He then shifted to a neuroscience major, which led him to his career in medicine.

“Medicine was one of the few fields that would allow me to take ownership of my career path because of the ways you can impact lives as a physician. I love the teaching, research, and seeing the difference I can make,” said Dr. Agrawal.

“SGU provided me the opportunity to become a physician and work harder and smarter,” he continued. “My experiences at SGU allowed me to have a well-rounded experience of observing how different hospital systems in the US function. I feel that I have become a better physician by being able to refer to my time at SGU to guide my career and approach to patient care.”

 

“I feel that I have become a better physician by being able to refer to my time at SGU to guide my career and approach to patient care.”

 

Following graduation, Dr. Agrawal found success in residency and fellowship, which he sees as being some of the most formative experiences that have led him to this honor. He interned at St. Barnabas Medical Center and completed a neurology residency at George Washington University before returning to UC San Diego for vascular neurology fellowship.

“I was fortunate to have trained in programs that emphasize the importance of relying on clinical intuition and developing a systematic and efficient approach to patient care,” said Dr. Agrawal.

Just as he has at UCSD, Dr. Agrawal made a mark on SGU, and the faculty remember him fondly.

“I remember Kunal as a very sincere and dedicated student at SGU,” said Dr. CV Rao, dean of University Alumni Affairs. “This sincerity and dedication have clearly remained consistent throughout his career and served him well. We are all very proud to call him one of our own.”

As for Dr. Agrawal’s favorite memory from SGU, he reflects on the people he encountered. “I could not have asked for a better graduating class from SGU,” he said. “I continue to maintain lifelong friendships with my graduating class, and of course, I met my fantastic wife at SGU—perhaps the best memory of all.”

 

Sarah Stoss

 

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A Doctor’s View Podcast: Alum shares his medical school experience

There are many questions surrounding international medical schools and what attending one means for a grad’s career outlook. Joshua Ramjist, MD ’11, knows something about that. He is a St. George’s University alum who developed his medical career in four different countries—the UK as part of the SGU/Northumbria University Program, in Grenada to complete his medical education, then on to the US for residency, and two research years in his native Canada.

To share his journey and provide answers to common questions regarding international medical school, Dr. Ramjist joined Dr. Paul Polyvios on the podcast A Doctor’s View in the episode titled “Studying medicine at an international university and working in the USA” to provide insight on his experience at St. George’s University and detail his career that followed.

As for Dr. Ramjist’s advice to those who hope to follow a path similar to his, he said: “It’s not for everyone. But for individuals who are open minded and really are excited to have this experience and are looking for a little bit of variability in their life, it’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had.”

 

 

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SGU grad secures ultrasound units to aid Grenada’s fight against breast cancer

In the fight against breast cancer, access to resources is key; specifically, resources that contribute to early detection. Dr. Randy Becker, MD ’00, and current medical director at Crossroads Imaging Center of Advanced Radiology, in Ellicott City, MD, and clinical assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, knows firsthand how important early detection is.

This is particularly the case on the island of Grenada, where during his visits through St. George’s University’s Physician Humanitarian Network (PHuN), he noticed a higher-than-normal percentage of patients with more advanced disease, oftentimes an indirect result of limited breast screening programs and access. To help alleviate this shortage, Dr. Becker worked with his imaging partner Hologic, to secure two portable breast ultrasound units. The donated imaging units will be used at Grenada General Hospital and Princess Alice Hospital.

“Improving access to women’s healthcare and screening services in Grenada is an important health initiative for the country. As a radiologist, I know that early detection often means better long-term outcomes for the country’s mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts. That is why making this donation means so much to me,” said Dr. Becker.

These handheld units are particularly useful for patients with dense breast tissue, which makes it more difficult to detect suspicious abnormalities and is more commonly seen in Black women. The units, which come complete with the latest software, will aid breast surgeons and interventional radiologists in real-time management of complex breast lesions.

“We continue to work collaboratively with our alumni to strengthen the delivery of healthcare in Grenada,” said Brendon LaGrenade, vice provost of institutional advancement at SGU. “Through Dr. Becker’s unceasing efforts, he has secured this donation as we continue to work on acquiring a mammography machine. We do believe these machines can be a vital interim resource in our fight against breast cancer.”

Hologic’s multiyear partnership with the nonprofit organization, Black Women’s Health Imperative, prompted Dr. Becker to submit a grant proposal for a comprehensive women’s imaging service package last year.

“One of the goals of the initiative was to increase screening and access to African American women in the United States, often in underserved areas,” Dr. Becker said. “I also learned that one of the more lethal forms of breast cancer, Triple Negative (TNBC), is most prevalent in West Africa, which is the founder population of not just most African Americans, but also of almost all Grenadians. However, with equal and appropriate screening programs we can reduce race- or ethnicity-associated breast cancer disparities such as what we see with TNBC.”

He views this donation as only the first step in delivering better women’s imaging care and services for the patients in Grenada. Said Dr. Becker: “Our goal of securing a mammography unit with biopsy capabilities to complete a comprehensive radiology service for the entire Grenadian community is what we hope will be the next step.”

Sarah Stoss

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Cardiologist from Grenada Pioneers Robotic Procedure in Outpatient Setting

Grenadian national Adam Bierzynski, MD ’11, is making waves in the field of interventional cardiology through the use of robotics in outpatient settings.

As an interventional cardiologist on staff at several hospitals in the Fort Lauderdale, FL area, Dr. Bierzynski performs complex heart procedures on patients in need. In 2020, he was among the team who performed the first-ever outpatient robotic percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) at an ambulatory surgery center.

Dr. Bierzynski spoke to SGU News about why the procedure was groundbreaking, the potential life-saving capabilities of robotics within the field of cardiology, his experience at St. George’s University, and how his medical training set him up for success.

SGU: Did you always want to become a doctor?

Dr. Bierzynski: I wanted to be a doctor for most of my life. My grandfather was the chief medical officer of Grenada for a time, and I was always interested in the sciences and being able to apply knowledge to helping and healing.

SGU: What appealed to you about the field of interventional cardiology?  

Dr. Bierzynski: Cardiology piqued my interest most throughout my clinical rotations. Once within cardiology training, the allure of interventional cardiology was too much to ignore. The ability to place a stent in someone’s artery who is having a heart attack and have them walk out as early as the next day with almost no damage done is truly one of the most rewarding feelings in medicine. The field is also always evolving with new techniques and procedures, so it is difficult for it to ever become mundane.

SGU: Where did you do your training?

Dr. Bierzynski: After being raised and completing high school in Grenada, I attended the University of Ottawa for my undergraduate studies before returning to Grenada to attend SGU. I graduated in 2011 and was fortunate enough to start my internship and residency in internal medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. I was accepted into the general cardiology fellowship program at Lenox Hill Hospital Heart and Vascular, then did a further subspecialty in interventional cardiology at the same institution, completing my long haul of training in June 2018.

 

“Being able to do something that hasn’t been done before was definitely the highlight of my career. My training really helped me to be confident in my ability to execute the procedure safely and address any complications that may arise.”

 

SGU: In 2020, you performed the first-ever outpatient robotic percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) at an ambulatory surgery center. Could you explain what this is and why a patient would need this?

Dr. Bierzynski: The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle. A “heart attack” is when those arteries are blocked and blood flow to the heart muscle stops and that muscle dies. A PCI is the placement of a stent into the coronary artery that opens the blockage and allows for blood to flow through the artery once again. Typically, this is done in a hospital and the performing doctor is standing at the operating table wearing heavy lead shielding to protect from radiation that is used to perform the imaging. A robotic PCI utilizes a mechanical arm that advances the wires, balloons, and stents that we use during the procedure in order to open the blocked arteries. I am able to sit in the adjacent control room and control the robot to perform the procedure instead of having to stand at the procedure table next to the radiation generator.  This has only ever been done inside a hospital until recently.

SGU: What was that experience like for you?

Dr. Bierzynski: Being able to do something that hasn’t been done before was definitely the highlight of my career. My training really helped me to be confident in my ability to execute the procedure safely and address any complications that may arise. Fortunately, that first procedure couldn’t have gone better, and the patient was discharged home hours later. I have continued to perform this procedure robotically whenever feasible.

It is likely that robotic PCI will become more and more commonplace and performing it in the outpatient setting will also become routine, and it will always be awesome for me to look back and think, “but I did it first!”

Adam Bierzynski, MD ’11, is making waves in the field of interventional cardiology through the use of robotics in outpatient settings.

SGU: Why is this an important advancement in cardiac medicine, especially during the COVID pandemic?

Dr. Bierzynski: Cardiology is a fast, ever-changing field. The things we routinely do now were considered impossible or impractical 10-15 years ago.

This was a timely innovation during the pandemic. By performing it as an outpatient at a surgical center, patients could be assured that there were no COVID patients at the facility so that they were at minimal risk. This was important as people were postponing life-saving care, especially early on in the pandemic, due to their desire to avoid exposure to a potentially life-threatening disease. Also, it allowed the performing doctor to minimize his exposure to the patient as well.

SGU: Looking forward, what is the potential for this technology within cardiology?

Dr. Bierzynski: There are many areas within the US that do not have interventional cardiologists nearby. When someone is having a heart attack they are losing heart muscle with every second. Being able to open their artery as quickly as possible makes all the difference to that individual’s life and also their quality of life. In those places where there is no access to providers capable of these interventions, it is possible that there can be staff trained in setting up and initiating the robot, while an interventional cardiologist performs the required intervention from a remote workstation.

On a global level, there are many countries that do not have an interventional cardiologist present to perform the required procedure in those suffering from an acute heart attack. Potentially, one operator could provide coverage to multiple hospitals, or different countries remotely without having to leave his own room.

In addition, interventional cardiologists have high rates of disability from orthopedic injuries due to long careers wearing heavy lead shielding while performing complex procedures.  Using the robot allows the operator to perform the same procedure while sitting down, relieving all the strain on the back and neck that interventional cardiologists have to suffer daily. It also reduces the radiation that we expose ourselves to by an estimated 50 percent and allows for more accurate measurement and stent placement which is better for the patient.

SGU: Describe your SGU experience, especially as someone from Grenada?

Dr. Bierzynski: Attending SGU was a fantastic experience. The campus is state-of-the-art, and uniquely breathtaking in its location. Coupled with a diverse student body and accessible faculty, I can truly say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time at SGU and would recommend it to anyone considering applying.

As a Grenadian, it was surprising how even though you felt at home, it was simultaneously like being in a different country. I had attended university overseas so I was comfortable with the change, but I was aware of the difference you feel when on campus. So even for those who feel they want to have a university experience elsewhere, I can assure you that you are exposed enough to different experiences that you do not feel stifled.

SGU: What insights do you have for other Caribbean students who may be considering medical school?  

Dr. Bierzynski: I sat in the lecture halls at SGU like everyone else, and heard from professors about when we will be doing residency or fellowship, and eventually practice as physicians, and I think everyone at some point has the same thought: “Can and will this really happen for me?” Rest assured, SGU graduates—including those from the Caribbean—can get the residency they want, the specialty they want, and become excellent physicians in their chosen field—if you work hard enough.

 

 

— Ray-Donna Peters and Laurie Chartorynsky

 

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