SGS Grad Wins Coveted Fulbright Scholarship Award

To make strides in improving public health at home, Grenadian Larissa Mark, MPH ’18, has gone almost three thousand miles away to make it happen.

With an already enhanced understanding of the promotion and protection of community health, the St. George’s University graduate has taken it even further in 2021, now working toward a Master of Public Health in epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Ms. Mark is doing so as a recent recipient of the Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarship Award, a program that allows awardees to explore professional opportunities abroad.

“I was beyond excited to venture into this new territory,” she said. “It was the opportunity of a lifetime to grow both professionally and personally. This award also came at an opportune time with the spotlight on public health due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ms. Mark was nominated for the award in part due to her research collaboration with her SGU professors on the Bush Burning Practice And Related Respiratory Symptoms Among Households In Grenada, The Caribbean. She also made significant contributions to public health as an environment, health, and safety manager at Sandals Grenada Beach Resort and Spa.

“SGU has played an integral role in my foundation both as a professional and an individual,” Ms. Mark said. “It is where I found my passion for public health and made long-lasting friendships. I could always depend on my professors for advice on my career development. However, the support did not stop when I completed my degree—there was continued mentoring support both professional and personal well after I graduated.”

On track to graduate in May 2022, Ms. Mark plans to spend her summer working with the Department of Human Health and Services Nebraska. As part of her Applied Practical Experience (APEx), she will be assisting on a study on the health outcomes associated with COVID-19 and pregnant women. She envisions herself completing a PhD in epidemiology or environmental epidemiology before returning to Grenada.

“I have always felt most fulfilled when I am helping other people and making a difference,” she said. “There’s no better way to do so than with service to the community by improving public health.”


— Ray-Donna Peters


Related Reading


SVM Grad Thrives in High-Intensity Critical Care Specialty

Jennifer Ortolani, DVM ’15, thrives in a fast-paced environment, where her ability to quickly diagnose and treat patients in dire need are in high demand. A critical care specialist at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Rockville, MD, Dr. Ortolani spends her day managing a variety of different cases hospitalized in the intensive care unit, consulting on cases with other specialists, and treating patients in the emergency department.

“I chose to become a veterinarian and specialize in emergency and critical care medicine because it combines my love of medicine, science, people, and animals,” said Dr. Ortolani. “What I enjoy most about my job is managing critical and complex disease processes and working with families to get their pets back home where they belong.”

Although she’d only been working as a criticalist since September 2019, Dr. Ortolani marvels at the difference a year can make. Similar to many others, her hospital has made a number of changes—conducting nearly all communications over the phone, and no longer developing that interpersonal connection with clients during consultation and cage side.

“Now, more than ever, we are asking people to trust us, while having even fewer mechanisms to earn that trust,” stated Dr. Ortolani. “Fortunately, I have been able to play an instrumental role in developing protocols to keep our hospital’s associates as safe as possible during these novel times. With so many medical professionals stepping up right now, including veterinarians, I am very grateful to be able to do my part and continue to help sick pets and their families.”

In spite of life’s current challenges, Dr. Ortolani has welcomed the chance to take on more, growing her career as a clinician and leader, building her hospital’s internship program, and increasing its critical care skills. She continues to educate herself, acquiring formal certifications and degrees, including the one she is currently completing at the University of Tennessee’s Veterinary Human Support certificate program.

“I’m hoping to expand my teaching and lecturing skills in the future,” said Dr. Ortolani. “I like training interns in a clinical environment but would also love to play a role in mentoring residents and students again. I really enjoy teaching didactic lectures, and perhaps someday I’ll get the opportunity to teach or guest-lecture at a university.”


— Ray-Donna Peters



Nephrology alum tackles kidney disease in Chicago

Andrew Kowalski, MD/MPH ’12, knows Chicago. He grew up in the Second City suburbs, went to college at Loyola University Chicago, and now works as an interventional nephrologist and assistant professor at MacNeal Hospital—the Illinois-based hospital where he was born and where he volunteered prior to becoming a medical student at St. George’s University.

Like in many American cities, kidney disease is a widespread issue in Chicago, which is where Dr. Kowalski comes in.

St. George’s University: How big of a problem is kidney disease in America?

Dr. Andrew Kowalski: More than one in seven people in the US have kidney disease—that’s about 15 percent of the population. Of those people, nine out of 10 have no idea they have any sort of disease, and two in five aren’t aware that they have severe disease and are very close to initiating dialysis. I see it a lot. I will tell some patients about significant issues that they face and they’re shocked.

I practice both general and interventional nephrology. As a general nephrologist, I see these patients and discuss ways to change their lifestyle, augment risk factors, and create treatment plans to move forward. Oftentimes we can put in 110 percent into a patient and, for whatever reason—likely their genetics—they still progress to requiring dialysis.

SGU: How closely is kidney disease associated with socioeconomics?

Dr. Kowalski: The majority of kidney disease patients have some issue with diabetes and/or high blood pressure. And it’s usually uncontrolled. Much of this closely relates to socioeconomics; those in the poorest communities tend to not have adequate access to healthcare, or whoever they see might not be the best. A lot of them have advanced conditions and complications that come with them.

Also in the mix, albeit less frequently, are patients from affluent neighborhoods. You see the same diabetes and high blood pressure, but the disease is more related to medications, drug use, and genetics. These patients feel like they know more and tend to try to treat themselves.


“SGU blew my mind in terms of the resources that were available, the culture there, the people there. It was fantastic.”


How did you get into nephrology?

Dr. Kowalski: What drove me into nephrology was meeting my mentor, Dr. Edgar Lerma. The way that he practiced, the way he carried himself and interacted with patients, it was really something I wanted to emulate. He wasn’t a very tall man, but he had a presence about him. He never spoke at the patients but always spoke with them. By the end, you would think you were speaking to a friend and bouncing ideas off of him. They truly trusted him and knew that they were in the right hands.

Nephrology has many avenues too. As an interventional nephrologist, I get to use both my hands and my head. As an interventional nephrologist, I see these patients and plan and manage their dialysis access. I would place their hemodialysis catheters, peritoneal catheters, and manage their fistulas and grafts so that they are receiving adequate dialysis treatment.

SGU: What’s your favorite part about your job?

Dr. Kowalski: I love teaching residents. I love explaining something that has a reputation of being difficult and seeing light bulb go off in their heads.

SGU: In addition to your MD, you obtained your Master of Public Health from SGU. How has that factored into your practice?

Dr. Kowalski: When I went to medical school, I wanted to have as many career options available as possible, and it helped not only with that, but it made me more well-rounded. I use the principles and practices that I learned in the MPH program more than I thought I ever would have. The coursework for that degree dove into many aspects of medicine that I was unaware of. We had in-depth discussions about population’s access to care, the influence of insurances, and the thought process that patients go through about their diagnosis and overall patterns of disease. An MPH degree gives you more options, and taking into account what you’re taught and the fact that it’s just one additional year, I think it’s extremely valuable to have.

SGU: How would you describe your SGU experience?

Dr. Kowalski: Going to SGU was much, much better than I thought it was going to be. It blew my mind in terms of the resources that were available, the culture there, the people there. It was fantastic. And time really flew by. During the week, you got a top-notch education—it really was phenomenal what we learned. And then every weekend it was like you were vacationing at a beautiful resort.

SGU really set me up for success. A lot of it had to do with riding on the shoulders of the giants who came before me who built a culture where everyone works together and helps each other out. We’re all on the same team, and our goal is to be better and do better as a whole.

– Brett Mauser

Related Reading

SGU ranks as #1 source of physicians in US workforce

In cities and towns across the United States, in specialties spanning all of medicine, St. George’s University graduates are making an undeniable impact on healthcare.

According to a recent report from the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), 11,627 SGU graduates were licensed to practice medicine in the US in 2019, making it the largest source of doctors for the entire US workforce—ahead of any other US or international medical school.

“We stand back and marvel at the outstanding work being done by our graduates in all corners of the US and the world,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of SGU. “The impact that they have made—and will continue to make—on patients, their families, and their communities is truly immeasurable.”

SGU alumni are crucial to addressing the country’s physician shortage, which is projected to climb as high as 139,000 across all specialties by 2033 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). This shortage is attributed to population growth and aging, as well as large portion of the physician workforce nearing retirement age.


In 2021, more than 1,070 SGU graduates will begin their residencies across the United States, marking the seventh year in a row in which SGU was the number one provider of new doctors to the US healthcare system per data as of April 2021. They’ll enter 21 different specialties ranging from neurology and orthopedic surgery to pathology and anesthesiology.

Hundreds of these grads will enter primary care, a field in dire need of physicians in the United States. According to the US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), more than 83 million Americans live in primary care health professional shortage areas (HPSA).

“We are proud of the impact that our graduates have had in the US and around the world,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, vice chancellor of SGU. “As a University, we look forward to providing a sturdy foundation for our students to become well-equipped, well-rounded physicians for many years to come.”

– Brett Mauser

SGU Vets Rank High in VIRMP Match 

With their degrees in hand, St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine graduates are set to take on even more specialized training beginning in the spring. Forty-nine SGU-trained veterinarians will continue their careers in internship and residency positions according to 2021 match data from the Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program (VIRMP). 

SGU students and grads achieved a match rate of 72.1 percent, the highest among Caribbean veterinary schools. It also compares favorably to the 53.5 percent match rate for all schools—including US schools—according to the VIRMP, a program sponsored by the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians (AAVC). 

“We couldn’t be happier for those who have decided to further strengthen their knowledge and skills through these postgraduate training opportunities,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the SVM. “These programs are welcoming excellent veterinarians who are committed not only to providing quality care for their patients, but to continuing to learn and grow as professionals.” 

Beginning in June, the newly matched graduates will continue their training in fields such as diagnostic imaging, oncology, emergency medicine, and neurology/neurosurgeryamong others. These positions are situated at such prestigious institutions as Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and several other universities within the SVM’s network of clinical affiliates.  

– Brett Mauser

3 SGU grads changing the face of veterinary medicine

Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian Americans have been historically underrepresented in the veterinary profession. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these minority populations make up less than 13 percent of the 83,000 veterinarians in the US.

Aspiring vets, especially minorities, want to be able to see themselves in the profession through the faces of those who are already working in it. A lack of diversity in the profession also impacts the animals and pets being cared for. Many people from low-income areas may not have access to or can’t afford pet healthcare.

Acting on the need to make the profession a more inclusive and diverse field, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges announced plans last year to create a new commission addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the veterinary profession.

To that end, three recent graduates of St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine shared their perspectives on the issue of diversity in the field and how they plan to make a difference by paying it forward.

Breaking Barriers as a Latina

Atalie Delgado, DVM ’20, an intern at Med Vet Chicago, fell in love with animals on her family’s ranch in Mexico and with becoming a veterinarian. However, she struggled to find support from Latina women who were pursuing degrees as veterinarians—a notion she aims to help fix. Dr. Delgado recently secured a residency position in small animal emergency and critical care at The Animal Medical Center in New York City that she will begin in July.

SGU: What inspired you to enter veterinary medicine?

Dr. Delgado: My strong desire to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine was built on a foundation of love for animals and a deep understanding of the intricate relationships that humans have with animals. The lack of Latinas in the sciences has motivated me and reaffirmed my desire to establish myself as a leader within the veterinary community and to mentor students of Latino origin who are just starting their veterinary medicine education.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Delgado: The lack of open dialogue and support that minority students often face. The promotion of diversity starts with educating future veterinarians and creating safe spaces where students of color feel supported.

At SGU, I gained the confidence to advocate for minority students and women in veterinary medicine. I started the SGU Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) student chapter during my second year of vet school with the help of my classmates, faculty, and staff at SGU. I am eternally grateful to have spent three years with supportive colleagues and faculty who encouraged our endeavors to promote diversity and leadership on the island and in the veterinary community.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Delgado: Working at a busy specialty center in an urban area of Chicago allows me to practice my medical Spanish while also providing quality care to pets of clients who come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s through these experiences that I continue to grow as a clinician and strengthen the aspirations I have as a veterinarian.

Obtaining board certification in emergency and critical care residency will help me to advance my career in veterinary medicine and support my desire to teach and advocate for diversity in the field.

VOICE: Championing Diversity in the Veterinary Profession at the Student Level.

Empowering African Americans to Become Veterinarians

Amber Shamburger, DVM ’19, is a small animal general practitioner in Gardner, MA. Originally from New York City, she became interested in veterinary medicine at a young age, becoming laser-focused on pursuing her dream once she entered high school.

Dr. Shamburger began volunteering at a veterinary hospital during her summer vacations, where she gained a mentor. “My mentor played a remarkable role in getting me to where I am today,” she said. “Not only did she teach me so much, but she also opened so many doors for me with the opportunities she offered.” Through her experiences, she hopes to inspire more African American and Hispanic vet students to follow their dreams.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Shamburger: I never realized how much diversity was lacking in this profession until I started vet school. The lack of diversity was quite painful, in stark contrast to the very diverse education I was exposed to years prior. It is important that we strive for diversity in vet med because it will help our profession grow. It will help us relate to our patients more, offer different treatment protocols among different populations, and offer unique perspectives.

SGU: What does it mean to you to be an African American and Hispanic woman in the field?

Dr. Shamburger: To be an African American woman in this field is empowering. Being Hispanic breaks down even more barriers. Although veterinary medicine is dominated by women, it is true that I represent a statistical anomaly. I hope, however, that I may also represent an example to other African American women that may have never considered this profession, to pursue their passion with ease of knowing that it is attainable.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Shamburger: I love that I have the ability to reassure an owner who is concerned about their pet, whether it’s through education or by offering a plan of action. I also love that there is never a dull day in this profession. I can always count on seeing an interesting case and having the opportunity to learn and grow from it.

Raising Awareness of Pet Care Outside the US

Growing up, Dr. Omar Khalaf found himself drawn to animals and their well-being, and that feeling only intensified when he would visit his family in Jordan. The lack of vet care available in the country, and education about the profession in general, motivated him to study veterinary medicine at SGU. Following his January graduation, Dr. Khalaf secured an emergency medicine/small animal rotating internship in Hollywood, FL.

SGU: How were you inspired to enter the field?

Dr. Khalaf: My defining moment was being in Jordan as a kid and seeing many uncared-for stray animals and the lack of education of how to care for them.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Khalaf: The lack of education of the importance of veterinary medicine—and as a result a lack of priority placed on creating veterinarians—in non-American countries to ensure the health of animals there. However, this is beginning to change and as a result we are seeing vets from all different ethnicities and cultures.

I hope to be able to raise awareness of the importance of animal and pet care through education and through social media to people across the world.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Khalaf: Being able to help sick and critically ill animals return to good health and live happy lives. The reward and smile of seeing people seeing their animals healthy is priceless.

— Laurie Chartorynsky

Alum’s Groundbreaking COVID Research Published in JAMA

As the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt, Eric Vail, MD ’13, went from cancer geneticist to COVID-19 diagnostician and researcher.

“New York had its major surge in March. We had ours in December,” said Dr. Vail, director of the clinical molecular pathology laboratory at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “We’re a low-volume, high-specialty lab that normally does 1,300 next generation sequencing cancer tests a year. Since COVID happened, we have done over 100,000 diagnostic PCR tests over the last year alone.”

When the region experienced a dramatic uptick in cases, Dr. Vail and his team were asked to investigate its origin. Their findings were published in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), with Dr. Vail serving as the co-senior author.

What prompted the research, and what did it discover?

At Cedars-Sinai, both our ICUs and main floors were overflowing during the holidays. That’s when hospital administration asked if we had seen the UK variant in our population. When we analyzed sequencing data, we didn’t find that variant, but there were 70-80 cases that all had the same mutations. We said, “this is something different.”

It wasn’t documented in any of the public databases at that time. We did some more analysis and found a cluster of newer mutations in the spike protein—what gives the virus its “corona (crown)”—which is the portion of the virus that attaches to the human cell and allows entry. We then went back into the public databases and saw it just exploded in November right along with our local surge in cases.

What did you learn from this experience?

It’s important from a public health and epidemiological standpoint to know what this virus is doing and how it’s doing it. If the infectivity increases, we can tailor our recommendations around it, but if you don’t look for it, you’ll never know.

It also pointed out the lack of unified public sequencing being done in the United States. There’s a lot of sequencing being done, but it’s very disparate and disconnected. It’s being done in 50 different places without centralized command and control.

What are variants, and how do they come about?

Viruses, and especially RNA viruses, change. Over time, as they go into new people, they have replication errors. When that happens, most of the time it’s deleterious, there becomes less of it, and it goes away. Every once in a while, though, a mutation gets increased fitness for its environment.

Variants come from our behavior, which is, in my opinion, empowering. You have the ability to wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance, and do your part. The virus isn’t plotting its way to get around us. If we do all the things we’re supposed to do, these variants will not emerge.

How well will the current vaccines address these variants?

I think it’s very important not to turn these variants into “scariants.” We’re trying to empower everyone with knowledge, and the knowledge we have right now is that if you can get a vaccine, go get a vaccine. Multiple studies have shown limited to no difference in clinical or immunological change in response to the vaccines from variant to variant. If we all get vaccinated, we can stamp out the coronavirus and get out of the pandemic together.

– Brett Mauser

Dreams Realized: Future Physicians Secure Residencies on Match Day 2021

At a time when the world needs more physicians, St. George’s University graduates are prepared to answer the call. On Match Day 2021, more than 1,025 SGU students and alumni learned of where they’ll begin their residencies this summer, joining a vast network of physicians who have made an indelible impact on healthcare worldwide.

The newly matched residents will train in specialties that include neurology, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and more. Dozens more will secure residency positions in the days and weeks to come.

“Match Day marks an important step in the life of every doctor,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University. “The entire SGU community is proud of the hard work our students have put in, and we wish them the very best as they prepare to start their careers officially.”

SGU continues to assist the US in addressing the projected doctor shortage of up to 139,000 physicians across primary and specialty care, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). On average, one in three St. George’s graduates work in medically underserved areas, which have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Many SGU alumni have bravely served on the front lines throughout the pandemic.

“The resilience and skill of countless SGU alumni has been on full display over the course of this pandemic,” Dr. Olds said. “We look forward to sending another talented group of students into the world to make a difference in the lives of patients.”

The 2021 match class shared their excitement as the next chapter in their careers came into focus.

SGU Alumni Offer Advice to Newly Matched Residents

“As graduating students of 2021, remember that you survived … four years of medical school, Step 1 and 2, and a pandemic—you can definitely survive residency.”

That’s the advice that 2020 graduate Lauren Sussman, a pediatrics resident at Albany Medical Center, offered to newly matched residents. She is one of dozens of St. George’s University alumni who offered advice to incoming interns who will begin their first year of residency in the US this July.

Students and graduates of SGU find out on Friday where they matched for residency. They will enter the healthcare field at a crucial time in history as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep its grip on much of the country and around the world.

Check out the advice that alumni had for their SGU colleagues.

MD Grad Is Addressing Another Major Public Health Issue—HIV

Jeremy Aguinaldo, MD ’17, looks at disease not only from up close—with each individual patient—but from a bird’s eye view. A board-certified public health physician for Compass Care in the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Aguinaldo identifies risk factors and problem areas for large populations, and implements programs to improve community health.

“The improvement of an individual’s health also requires improving the entire healthcare system,” said Dr. Aguinaldo, who recently completed his public health and preventive medicine residency at Morehouse School of Medicine.

While countries around the world deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Dr. Aguinaldo is addressing a problem that continues to plague his community—the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

How serious is the current HIV problem in the United States?

More than a million people in the United States are living with HIV, and in 2018, there were about 36,000 new cases. Contracting HIV is no longer considered a death sentence as it was before. With the continued advancements of antiretroviral drugs to manage the virus, HIV had become a chronic illness, similar to how diabetes and blood pressure are managed.

What measures are you taking to help prevent the spread of HIV in your community?

When a patient initially tests positive for HIV, he or she is immediately sent to the clinic where they are linked to care and started on antiretroviral treatments. Patients who start on medication soon after diagnosis have shown to have better outcomes compared to those start much later. By taking the prescribed medications, the viral load (the amount of HIV in the body) is reduced. By reducing the viral load to such a level, it becomes undetectable by standard blood tests.

Patients who maintain an undetectable status will continue to be healthy and prevent transmission, which is referred to as “treatment as prevention.” This is key in preventing HIV spread in the community. The clinic also promotes the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which, when taken daily, is successful in preventing infection with HIV, greatly reducing the risk. It’s also important to raise awareness and educate the community on the benefits of using PrEP.

Dr. Aguinaldo as a medical student in Grenada

What social or economic trends are tied to HIV cases and transmissions?

There is a significant risk of HIV infection in those with mental health illnesses. The common conditions include depression, anxiety, bipolarity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and dementia. These issues make drug adherence much more difficult to comply with and increase high-risk behaviors such as illicit substance use and unprotected sexual activities.

Many individuals in the community I serve are homeless, unemployed, or lack health insurance and thus struggle to make ends meet. They consider their HIV status less of a priority until their own basic needs are met. This is where addressing those social factors, as well as managing them, clinically come into play.

Why has public health become the focus of your career?

When I was getting my master’s degree in public health, I learned from nurses, doctors, statisticians, researchers, engineers, and others who all shared a common goal: to improve the health of the population. Healing is more than just prescribing a simple pill but also collaborating with a team of multiple disciplines to help the patient.

Dr. Aguinaldo’s cancer research presentation as an SGU student