Neurosurgical Spine Specialist Thriving in Syracuse

For Upstate Medical University neurosurgical spine specialist Michael Galgano, MD ’10, with each operation he performs comes the opportunity to drastically improve the course of a person’s life.

There was the 40-year-old woman whose adolescent scoliosis had gone untreated. Debilitating back pain prevented her from completing workdays or from playing with her young daughter. A corrective procedure returned her to normal activity level.

Then there was the 17-year-old lacrosse player who suddenly had difficulty walking. It was discovered he had an osteoblastoma that was crushing his spinal cord, slowly paralyzing him. Dr. Galgano and his team removed the tumor and reconstructed his spinal column, allowing him to return to lacrosse a few months later after a remarkable recovery.

It’s that kind of impact that the 2010 St. George’s University graduate set out to make when he entered medical school, and what excites him the most about his role at Upstate.

“I treat a population of patients with a wide array of complex spinal disorders, ranging from tumors of the spinal cord and vertebral column, to scoliosis and other deformities,” Dr. Galgano said. “I am drawn toward these types of surgeries that require a significant amount of pre-surgical planning and strategizing. Each complex case I do has its own unique spin, and requires some degree of creativity to achieve an ideal outcome. Improving the quality of life in my patients is ultimately what drives me. It is difficult to get bored with this job.”

At Upstate, located in Syracuse, NY, his responsibilities are many—assistant professor of neurosurgery, director of spinal oncology and reconstructive spinal deformity surgery, as well as the medical school neurosurgery clerkship program. Although Dr. Galgano sub-specializes in spine surgery, he also treats neuro-trauma, in addition to brain tumors.

 

“Each complex case I do has its own unique spin, and requires some degree of creativity to achieve an ideal outcome. Improving the quality of life in my patients is ultimately what drives me.”

Michael Galgano, MD

 

Four days a week, Dr. Galgano rounds on his inpatients before logging six- to 10-hour sessions in the operating room on surgical procedures. As a professor, he holds weekly didactic learning sessions for which he lectures to the university’s neurosurgery residents and medical students.

“When I run into the occasional SGU student completing a sub-I at our hospital and they find out I am also an alum, their eyes light up,” he said. “I tell them all to be proactive, and to outwork everybody they can on their rotations. At the end of the day, it boils down to being nothing short of determined to match into the field you are most passionate about, whether that is family medicine or neurosurgery.”

Dr. Galgano performs his craft and extensive research at the very location where his neurosurgery career began as a resident in 2010, weeks after graduating from SGU. He spent seven years in residency at Upstate, and even earned the Outstanding Neurosurgery Resident of the Year Award. In 2017, he went on to complete a complex and oncological spine surgery fellowship at Brown University in Providence, RI.

Dr. Galgano had always had his mind set on entering neurology, but the surgery element came into focus as a medical student when he rotated with general surgeons at Overlook Hospital in New Jersey—one of more than 70 clinical sites available to SGU students. So, for his career, he combined his two passions.

“The rotation centers I went to were fabulous,” he said. “Rotating at a number of different hospitals exposes you to a wide variety of pathology. Instead being at a single institution, you see a diverse case load and patient population, and learn from physicians with different backgrounds. You grow comfortable working with a new set of instructors every few weeks. It keeps you on your A-game.”

Dr. Galgano added: “During neurosurgical training, the more surgeons you get to experience operating with, the better surgeon you become. You take a bit of knowledge from each mentor, and incorporate concepts and techniques you learned from them into your style. That’s kind of the way I look at SGU. We are taught medicine from doctors all around the world, increasing the diversity of our experience. SGU really is an all-star medical school. There is no doubt that our students graduate ready to hit the real world. SGU offers not only a medical education, but a unique and profound life experience. The end product of having received a medical education at SGU is something to be proud of.”

– Brett Mauser

Grenada-Born SGU Alum Returns Home To Care For His Nation’s Heart

For Diego Humphrey, MD ’84, the road to achieving his dreams of becoming a doctor was not an easy one. Although fraught with obstacles, especially financial ones, he never deviated from his path to one day practice medicine.

Now with more than 35 years as a practicing cardiologist, the native Grenadian serves the retired men and women of the US Armed Forces at the Jack C. Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Muskogee, OK.

Dr. Humphrey was born in Birchgrove, St. Andrew’s, but grew up in the bustling industrial area of Grand Anse after his mother moved their family so she could be closer to her job at a nearby hotel. Upon completing secondary school, he received partial sponsorship from the Grenadian government to attend SGU, graduating in 1984 as one of the original members of the first class of Grenadian-born SGU alumni.

After graduating, he spent two years at the General Hospital serving the Grenadian people. That’s when he stepped out of his comfort zone.

“In 1986, I felt destined to venture out for additional training and took a big chance in relocating to the US,” he said. “In those days—unlike today—it was very difficult to get into a residency training program as an international medical graduate. It took three years before I got an internship/resident position at Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia. Once I got my foot in the door, my passion, drive, and hard work paid off when I became one of the first to be accepted into the cardiology fellowship program.”

SGU students now have access to clinical training opportunities at over 70 leading hospitals and clinical centers in the United States, Canada, Grenada, and United Kingdom, and secure quality US-based residencies every year, including more than 960 first-year positions in 2019 alone.

 

“I am proud to be part of a program that, since its inception in 2008, has provided millions of dollars in service to the Grenadian people and has saved countless lives.”

Diego Humphrey, MD

 

After achieving much success in the US, Dr. Humphrey, who never forgot his roots, turned his eye back to Grenada, officially joining the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network (SGU-PHuN) in 2016. He now returns each year, donating his time and expertise to the program that enables St. George’s University alumni and friends to aid the Ministry of Health and Government of Grenada in providing cost-free healthcare services such as ophthalmology, podiatry, endoscopy, and cardiology among others to the country’s citizens.

“Dr. Diego Humphrey is unique to us at SGU-PHuN in that he is our only Grenadian cardiologist within the adult cardiology program” said Brendon La Grenade, vice provost for institutional advancement. “As one of the first Grenadian graduates of St. George’s University School of Medicine, he continues to support his home country by providing desperately needed cardiology services. SGU and the island of Grenada are extremely proud and grateful for the work that he has been doing for us and wish to have him on board for many years to come.”

“The work we do here in Grenada is priceless,” stated Dr. Humphrey. “I am proud to be a part of a program that, since its inception in 2008, has provided millions of dollars in service to the Grenadian people and has saved countless lives. In the future, I would like to go a step further and develop a registry of cardiovascular medicine, which would allow us—the Grenadian medical community—to know how we’re doing in managing this chronic disease that poses such a danger to us.”

To that end, Dr. Humphrey, who also practices preventive medicine, has founded Green Heart Mobile Clinic, an organization created to spread information from parish to parish on maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, as well as provide essential cardiology services such as diagnosing, monitoring, and treating cardiovascular disease island-wide.

“Attention needs to be paid not just to treating the problem but to preventing the problem in the first place,” stated Dr. Humphrey. “My mission is to go around the island, especially the rural communities, informing people of the status of their cardiovascular health to help prevent congestive heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.”

He hopes to one day see these efforts culminate in a competition between the parishes for the title of Healthiest Parish in Grenada.

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU Alum Promotes Advances In Women’s Healthcare In Grenada

OB/GYN specialist Philip Lahrmann, MD ’81 (left)According to OB/GYN specialist Philip Lahrmann, MD ’81, if it wasn’t for St. George’s University, he wouldn’t be a doctor today. And as a proud graduate of SGU’s Charter Class, Dr. Lahrmann has dedicated more than 16 years to providing essential women’s health services to the place where he began his medical career almost four decades ago.

“SGU and Grenada gave me the chance that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere to be a physician,” said Dr. Lahrmann, a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. “I feel a strong sense of obligation to give back, and even though there are other places I could go, I always choose to come here. Whenever I come back, I’m always welcomed from everyone on the campus to the people I meet out in the community. I especially enjoy meeting up with familiar faces and friends from my time here.”

Returning twice a year, Dr. Lahrmann routinely presents lectures at SGU’s clinical teaching unit at the Grenada General Hospital, in addition to regularly donating vital family planning supplies, including intrauterine devices which are frequently in short supply on island.

During his most recent visit, Dr. Lahrmann also brought along his son and fellow alum, Jeffrey Lahrmann, MD ’15, currently a fellow in the UCONN/Hartford Hospital Neurology Department. The duo was invited to give an alumni talk to SGU students entitled, “Life Beyond the Caribbean.” The talk spanned their respective experiences attending SGU, general guidelines for succeeding in a medical career, and discussed their individual specialties.

“It was one of the proudest days of my life to share the podium with my son,” said Dr. Lahrmann. “It was a unique opportunity for both of us, as parent and child and being a grad myself I know that the number of legacy students enrolling at SGU continues to grow each year. My son actually visited SGU as a high school student—this was before the creation of SGU’s Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy. I’m honored that he chose to follow in my footsteps.”

As the lead OB/GYN, Dr. Lahrmann visits are arranged through the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network (SGU-PHuN), a program whereby a collection of St. George’s University alumni donate their time and expertise to providing much-needed healthcare services such as ophthalmology, podiatry, endoscopy, and cardiology among others at no cost to the Grenadian public.

“Programs like the SGU-PHuN are extremely beneficial not only to the people of Grenada but to the University community as well and need to continue,” added Dr. Lahrmann. “In addition to our continual efforts to further advance the level of care for women’s health in Grenada, we should also strive to strengthen our connection to the Grenadian medical community and reinforce the bond between the University and its host country. As graduates, we have a unique opportunity to act as ambassadors.”

“Dr. Lahrmann is one of our cherished SGU graduates,” said Brendon La Grenade, vice provost for institutional advancement. “He holds SGU and Grenada very close to his heart. This is evident in both his personal and professional life. In addition to his son also being an SGU grad, Dr. Lahrmann has continued to give back as a volunteer physician returning to the island of Grenada with the SGU-PHuN, supported SGU growth initiatives through the Alumni Admission Mentor Program (AAMP), provided academic support with the basic sciences department, and he features SGU prominently in his profile as his alma mater.”

About Dr. Lahrmann

Dr. Philip Lahrmann graduated from St. George’s University School of Medicine in 1981 and completed his residency at Sisters of Charity Hospital, in Buffalo, NY. He began his career with a solo obstetrics and gynecology practice in Connecticut, which eventually expanded to five physicians and three certified nurse midwives. After serving as the lead physician for 25 years, his interest in teaching led him, in 2010, to a full-time position at Hartford Hospital, where he teaches medical students at the University of Connecticut and Dartmouth University as well as residents in the University of Connecticut’s obstetrics and gynecology program.

In Dr. Lahrmann’s work he focuses on patient safety and adoption of new techniques, including advanced laparoscopic techniques in the hospital and in office-based surgery. He currently practices at the Women’s Ambulatory Health Services (WAHS) clinic at the Hartford Hospital Campus in Connecticut. Dr. Lahrmann also has a medical practice in West Hartford, CT named “A Woman’s Life Center”.

–Ray-Donna Peters 

Diabetes Diagnosis as a Child Leads SGU Alum to Forge Path in Pediatrics

Madelin Brinson, MD '19Madelin Brinson, MD ’19, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just 6 years old—following months of illness and unanswered questions of why she could not hold food down and was drinking gallons of water—literally—each night. The detection and ongoing management of her diabetes not only changed the course of her life forever, but strongly influenced her future career path, even at such a young age.

As a first-year pediatrics resident at the UF (University of Florida) Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, FL—her first choice for residency—Dr. Brinson is repaying her positive experience with healthcare professionals who treated and helped her manage her diabetes. Dr. Brinson sees children who come to the hospital with a variety of ailments and focuses on giving her patients’ families proper information and education so they can make informed health decisions.

“Every time I am caring for a diabetic patient, I love sharing my experience with them, so they know that I am on their side and they’re not alone,” said Dr. Brinson, who’s originally from Orlando. “I think putting yourself in the child’s and family’s shoes is important. Some health issues that are routine to us as doctors might be terrifying or confusing to parents. I make sure to always try to see things from their point of view, especially when diagnosing something like Type 1 diabetes that will affect the patient for the rest of their lives.”

DIAGNOSED AT A YOUNG AGE

An estimated 23.1 million people in the US have been diagnosed with diabetes, more than 7 percent of the American population. Of those, about 1.5 million, or 5 percent of all diagnosed cases, have Type 1 diabetes, according to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, citing the Centers for Disease Control. In 2015, approximately 193,000 Americans under the age of 20 were estimated to have diagnosed diabetes.

Dr. Brinson recalls that as a child she had a particularly rough stomach virus, which at first was brushed off only later to be determined as a trigger for developing diabetes. After months of suffering, her mother finally realized something was very wrong.

“She noticed that I was constantly fatigued and drinking a lot of fluids,” she said. “I had empty jugs of water on my bed, and I would go to the garage to get more water in the middle of the night. We finally went to get a second opinion, and the doctor tested my blood right there and immediately sent us to the hospital where I was diagnosed with diabetes.”

While she remembers being “pretty scared” at the mention of going to the hospital, “every part of the treatment was a positive experience including good patient education—they gave me a teddy bear to practice insulin shots,” Dr. Brinson said, adding that her mom encouraged her to learn how to give herself insulin shots to become more independent while living with the disease.

 

“Every time I am caring for a diabetic patient, I love sharing my experience with them, so they know that I am on their side and they’re not alone.”

Madelin Brinson, MD

 

As she got older, she attended and then eventually volunteered as a counselor at the Florida Camp for Children and Youth with Diabetes, a University of Florida program devoted to providing a fun and safe environment for children living with Type 1 diabetes, while also educating campers and giving them more control over their diabetes. Working with the kids, “I realized I was not alone,” she said, and found role models in the doctors and medical specialists who ran the camp.

“With diabetes, if you get sick, you’re prone to get a lot sicker than a regular kid. When I talked with doctors and nurses, I was able to get a preview of the medical field and it piqued my interest,” Dr. Brinson said. “Having those good role models and seeing them help other people, I wanted to do the same thing. But it was after my pediatric rotation at Brooklyn Hospital Center that I knew I really wanted to be a pediatrician.”

MANAGING DIABETES AS A RESIDENT

Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to create or effectively use its own insulin, which is produced by islet cells found in the pancreas. Insulin helps regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels – providing energy to body cells and tissues. Without insulin, the body’s cells would be starved, causing dehydration and destruction of body tissue. People with type 1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump to survive, according to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation.

Long hours and stressful workloads can take a toll on a person with diabetes more severely than others. Dr. Brinson said these days she is extra vigilant, making sure she always has insulin with her at work and frequently checking her glucose levels. “One time I had come down with a virus and my blood sugar was not coming down. I woke up three times in one night to give myself insulin which caused me to wake up late for work, but my colleagues understood,” she said.

Dr. Brinson is joined in Gainesville by her fiancé, Jack Schneck, MD ’19, whom she met as a student at St. George’s University. Last March, they couples-matched on Match Day, him into an anesthesiology residency at UF. Between an intense work schedule each, they are set to be married on November 30.

“Advances in management of diabetes has been game changing for Maddie. New devices allow her to monitor 24/7 on the fly, right to her phone and even mine,” Dr. Schneck said. “It’s definitely a challenge to balance residency and your health in general, especially adding in a chronic illness. She’s really dedicated and does an amazing job at controlling her diabetes. I’ve learned how to help her monitor and give reminders when things get hectic. “

As a resident, Dr. Brinson is getting experience in a variety of pediatric sub-specialties from GI to nephrology to NICU and endocrinology—a rotation she is particularly looking forward to doing, given her diabetes illness. She is also working with some of the same doctors that run the camp, allowing her to come full circle in her life.

In pediatrics, Dr. Brinson said sometimes it’s difficult to stay objective especially when seeing issues with infants and children that may not be medical-related. “Sometimes it’s hard as a doctor, but I want to try to make a difference in their lives—even if it’s a small difference,” she said. “I am super fulfilled—exhausted, but very fulfilled.”

–Laurie Chartorynsky

Mother’s Cancer Battle Motivates SGU Grad to Become Breast Surgeon

Joseph Di Como, MD '14A doctor delivered the news—cancer, an aggressive form. Joseph Di Como’s mother, a cornerstone of the family, would have to undergo surgery and many months of treatment.

Her struggle changed the course of his life forever. More than 15 years later, now a doctor, Joseph Di Como, MD ’14, is providing important care and instilling hope in patients as a breast surgical oncology fellow at Brown University, Women and Infants’ Hospital of Rhode Island.

“Although I enjoyed all of my clinical rotations, surgery was the one that called to me the most, and even though I enjoyed every subspecialty of surgery, I felt that breast surgical oncology would give me the most personal satisfaction,” he said.

He was just a sophomore in high school when his mother learned that she had inflammatory breast cancer. The diagnosis blindsided the family. His mother was healthy, still young, and there was no family history of cancer.

“It was extremely difficult, as a young kid in high school, to juggle between school, extracurricular activities, and coming home to that situation every day,” Dr. Di Como said. “We were all optimistic at first, but as her health continually worsened and we learned more about what was going on during the different stages of the disease, it was very difficult for everybody.”

Antonina Di Como battled the disease for 16 months before passing away in November 2003 at age 44. Her death was the turning point for Dr. Di Como. He went from being an average student to a superior one—and his career path was clear.

“After that, I knew I wanted to be a doctor, specifically to treat cancer,” Dr. Di Como said. “I tried to keep an open mind throughout medical school, but I knew what I wanted to treat.”

Now fully immersed in cancer care, he works toward achieving positive results for patients in Rhode Island. Dr. Di Como operates on patients with both benign and malignant conditions, using the most up-to-date surgical techniques. He marvels at how these techniques are rapidly evolving and how treatment has become tailored for patients based on the biologics of a tumor. As a fellow, he preps patients for surgery or any extra imaging or testing they may need, and also co-coordinates a weekly tumor board, for which he and another oncology fellow present all new cancer patients or those with any benign masses or conditions for further workups.

“Different tumors behave differently, and different factors will direct how we tailor the therapy,” said Dr. Di Como. “It will depend on everything from a patient’s hormone receptor status and their reaction to chemotherapy to his or her age, medical comorbidities, and where they are in life. There’s no one cure that fits all.”

 

“A doctor’s job shouldn’t just be treating and curing disease; it’s about improving the life of a patient through empathy and compassion.”

Joseph Di Como, MD

 

In addition to his clinical responsibilities, Dr. Di Como is committed to conducting research to help progress oncology even further. Current projects include the use of radiofrequency identification (RFID) to tag breast cancers for surgical excision, in comparison to the standard use of wire localization in breast tumors, whereby wires mark lesion locations prior to surgery. Also, with the help of new technology, he conducts intraoperative angiograms using a florescent green marker to identify vessels in the patient’s breast prior to doing a mastectomy with reconstruction.

“By doing this procedure, our hope is to preserve these vessels to see if that has any impact on tissue viability and flap viability,” he said. “Having a flap that isn’t getting enough blood flow is one of the biggest and most detrimental complications a patient can have, so we’re trying new ways to avoid that, in order to help these patients that are undergoing reconstruction right after surgery.”

Each day, he is reminded of his family’s own encounter with breast cancer. It has changed him as a person and as a doctor, and has indirectly assisted the patients that he treats.

“I know how it feels to be on the family side of these diagnoses,” Dr. Di Como said. “Even if the prognosis is poor, it’s very important that, even if you cannot cure the patient, that we find a way to make everybody feel comfortable. A doctor’s job shouldn’t just be treating and curing disease; it’s about improving the life of a patient through empathy and compassion, to try to do everything you can to make the rest of their time here as comfortable and fulfilling as possible. Patients and their families are appreciative as long as they know that somebody cares, that somebody is on their side.”

He describes it as a “vital, sacred experience that cannot be underestimated.” With the care his own mother received, Dr. Di Como witnessed the kind of difference it can make for a family, and the experience has helped shape the rest of his life—and the lives of those he treats.

“Before she passed, I told my mom that I was going to be a doctor,” he said, “and I’m proud to say that I am.”

– Ray-Donna Peters

For more SGU coverage of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, check out Cancer Scare Inspires Grad To Become Oncologist At Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Clinician, Teacher, Researcher: Silicon Valley Gastroenterologist Kept “On His Toes”

Andrew Roorda, MD ' 04, gastroenterologist

Gastroenterologist Andrew K. Roorda, MD ’04, is thrilled when he holds an endoscope in his hands. He is likely helping a patient suffering from any number of symptoms affecting his or her digestive tract. From a person who has food stuck in his esophagus, to those who are bleeding or managing chronic illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Dr. Roorda encounters patients with a wide variety of ailments.

“What’s nice about gastroenterology is you can be in the endoscopy suite in the morning, the emergency room during your lunch hour, and assessing patients in the office in the afternoon,” he said. “I love the multiple settings of my job.”

Originally from San Francisco, Dr. Roorda has been practicing in the Silicon Valley since 2012 and is affiliated with three Northern California hospitals—El Camino Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, and Stanford University Medical Center. He also performs outpatient endoscopy at the Silicon Valley Surgery Center.

Thanks to advancements in technology, the field is evolving to become more interventional, allowing Dr. Roorda and his peers to diagnose and treat more complex cases.

“Technology is helping the field in many ways,” Dr. Roorda said. “Both endoscopes, such as the newer high-definition ones, those with a wider field of view, as well as their endoscopic accessories are in a constant state of development. Artificial intelligence is on the horizon in many fields, including endoscopy, and we anticipate that it will be used to help us identify polyps during colonoscopy. The more options we have in our endoscopic toolbox, the more we are able to offer our patients during their procedures.”

EARLY BEGINNINGS

Dr. Roorda credits his early interest in becoming a doctor after reading Erich Segal’s “Doctors” during a summer vacation. The book follows a group of fictional characters through their training at Harvard Medical School, and it gave Dr. Roorda an in-depth look into what medical school is like. “I saw how almost super-human those characters were and thought this would be something really cool to do,” he said.

In college, Dr. Roorda got his first chance to be a superhero himself when he helped stopped a person from committing suicide. Seeing how he could contribute to saving someone’s life moved him. “We were there to help somebody who really needed it and we changed the outcome,” he said. “While doctors don’t get to do that every day, there are definitely times that I still get to feel that way.”

While he didn’t immediately set off to medical school. Dr. Roorda graduated from the University of California San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in history and considered becoming a history professor. But his interest in medicine was never far from his mind. Going to SGU “was initially a leap of the faith, but I got over that very quickly,” Dr. Roorda said. “When I got down to Grenada, I started to see the caliber of students who were there and began to learn more of the success stories, so I knew things were going to work out.”

“St. George’s made me resilient,” he added. “In your clinical years, you get to go to a lot of different hospitals. It taught me how to adapt quickly to new settings which helped me to be flexible during rotations in my residency and fellowship.”

Dr. Roorda, who is 6’6″, originally wanted to be a surgeon. However, his height posed a problem when standing for long periods of time during operations. He became interested in gastroenterology after realizing he still could do plenty of procedures that were shorter in duration.

SECURING A RESIDENCY IN A COMPETITIVE SPECIALTY

Obtaining a residency or fellowship in a competitive specialty like gastroenterology is not easy. Students who take the extra step to make themselves stand out will likely be more successful in securing a position, recommends Dr. Roorda.

For GI, it was identifying mentors who conducted research. “I was very fortunate—I learned how to write papers and I presented the research as posters at conferences. That stood out on my resume.”

Dr. Roorda completed his internal medicine residency at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, CA. He then went on to become a clinical fellow in gastroenterology at West Virginia School of Medicine in Morgantown, WV.

Dr. Roorda has published research in scientific journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Diseases of the Esophagus, and Practical Gastroenterology. In between seeing patients, he also teaches at Stanford University School of Medicine as an adjunct clinical assistant professor in the school’s Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Sharing his knowledge with aspiring doctors is important to Dr. Roorda.

“The science cannot really advance unless people are teaching it to a new generation of trainees,” he said. “I love the exchange of knowledge and in the process I learn new things myself. The trainees ask questions that keep you on your toes.”

– Laurie Chartorynsky

St. George’s University Celebrates IMG Recognition Week

The St. George’s University community is thrilled to join the American Medical Association in celebrating “IMG Recognition Week,” which extends from October 21-27.

“International medical graduates play a pivotal role in the physician workforce,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University. “It’s important that we recognize their valuable contributions to the US healthcare system. This week gives us the perfect opportunity to do so.”

St. George’s University is the second-largest source of doctors to the entire United States. In 2019, SGU graduates matched into residencies in 42 different states and 18 different medical specialties. No other medical school in the world provides more new doctors to the US healthcare system.

IMGs currently account for roughly one-quarter of all US doctors. Forty percent of internal medicine physicians graduated from an international school. IMGs also compose about 30 percent of pathologists and psychiatrists.

Many of these aspiring doctors originally come from the United States and return home to practice. Seventy-five percent of St. George’s students are US citizens. The percentage of US citizens who graduated from Caribbean medical schools increased by roughly 30 percent between 2010 and 2018.

IMGs disproportionately choose to work in high-need specialties and underserved areas. They selected primary care residencies at nearly twice the rate of US medical school graduates in 2019. They also tend to practice in low-income, rural, and majority-minority parts of the country.

Given the nation’s growing healthcare needs, these doctors are more important than ever before. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently reported that the United States will face a shortage of up to 122,000 doctors by 2032. Those shortfalls will disproportionately hurt “rural and historically underserved” areas.

“As our population grows and ages, so will demand for health care,” said Dr. Olds. “International medical graduates can meet the nation’s healthcare needs. We’re honored to have the opportunity to train these future doctors. And we’re confident they’ll continue to provide high-quality care to all Americans.”

For more information about IMG Recognition Week, please visit the American Medical Association website.

CityDoctors: Scholarship Paved Way for Grads to Practice Medicine in Greater NYC

What makes a CityDoctor? Since 2012, St. George’s University’s collaborative scholarship program has provided more than 150 aspiring physicians opportunities to foster their medical careers.

While each CityDoctor’s story is unique, they’re all tied together by the fervent desire to serve communities in and around New York, to connect with their patients, and the willingness to do what is necessary to reach their goals.

The CityDoctors scholarship program is made possible through a partnership with three affiliate hospital systems—NYC Health + Hospitals, Hackensack University Medical Center, and Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

As SGU prepares to greet a new class of CityDoctors on campus in January, four scholarship recipients shared how the award helped them realize their dreams of becoming doctors, and how the diverse patients and communities they work with will benefit from their training.

Cancer Scare Inspires Grad to Become Oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering

Working as a breast medical oncologist at world-renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Julia Brockway-Marchello, MD ’12, has returned to where her journey toward a career in medicine began. As a child she was diagnosed with cancer in one of her salivary glands. Successful surgery at MSKCC to remove the tumor, and her positive experience there and during follow-up radiation treatments in Boston inspired her to become a doctor.

“I decided early on that I wanted to take care of patients like me,” said Dr. Brockway. After completing pre-med studies and earning her undergraduate degree in community health at Brown University, Dr. Brockway’s first job out of college was as a research study assistant within the Breast Surgery Service at MSKCC, her first encounter with breast cancer which solidified her specialty of choice.

As an assistant attending physician with MSKCC’s breast medicine service, including at its newest Long Island location, the St. George’s University graduate visits with patients at all different stages of diagnosis. Some are coming in for a second opinion, some have been referred by their surgeons for chemotherapy and other treatments, while others are seeking eligibility for clinical trials.

“From the moment a person is told they have cancer, their life will never be the same,” said Dr. Brockway, 35, who adds that her own experience with cancer gives her a unique perspective when treating patients. “A critical part of my job is to ensure that my patients and their caregivers feel supported and confident, from the time of diagnosis through treatment and beyond.”

“Sometimes the answer is no treatment, and when we can no longer treat the cancer, we focus on managing symptoms,” acknowledged Dr. Brockway, who is still adjusting to the weight of responsibility felt with terminal patients. “Those are the hardest conversations, but thankfully I had strong training in palliative care during my hematology/oncology fellowship. Patients really appreciate seeing empathy, compassion, and that you’re in it with them as a doctor and as a person.”

As a breast oncologist, having strong support from colleagues and staff, remaining grounded, and having outlets to channel various emotions following difficult days is paramount.

“I feel grateful for the opportunity to do this work and to care for patients, but also to be able to go home to my family, to be able to do the things I love with the people I love,” including her husband and 2-year-old son, she said.

 

“A critical part of my job is to ensure that my patients and their caregivers feel supported and confident, from the time of diagnosis through treatment and beyond.”

Julia Brockway-Marchello, MD

 

Learning skills to effectively and compassionately communicate with patients is a core part of fellowship training, according to Adriana K. Malone, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Hematology/Medical Oncology Fellowship Program.

“It’s a crucial aspect for oncologists in training because we use these skills each day with our patients and also throughout our careers,” Dr. Malone said.

“What I think distinguishes Julia from other trainees is how exceptionally caring and empathetic she is,” she said. “Also, it is very important for an oncologist to have strong communication skills and Julia is a skilled communicator who is really gifted at being able to build a rapport with both patients and families. Additionally, Julia is extremely hard working and always considers how to improve the patient care experience.”

But the job isn’t always so gloomy. Advances in cancer detection and treatment, including new approaches to chemotherapy and managing side effects, means that most days Dr. Brockway can tell a patient that, while he or she has cancer, it is curable. Advancements such as genomic testing for early-stage estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer to determine whether a patient would benefit from chemotherapy in addition to anti-estrogen therapy, identifying tumor mutations and tailoring a patient’s treatment, and immunotherapy for metastatic breast cancer treatment, can all help improve patient survivorship rate.

“That’s really when the job is the most rewarding—to be able to say that cancer is treatable and we’re going to get through this,” she said.

One of the most common questions she and her colleagues hear—“Am I going to lose my hair?”—can even be addressed through cold cap therapy, a process that freezes the hair follicles to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy.

Julia Brockway-Marchello, MD, Breast Oncologist

In between seeing patients, studying for her board exams, and spending time with family, Dr. Brockway finds the time to give back. This spring, she ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon as part of MSKCC’s running program, Fred’s Team, where members don the iconic orange tops and participate in athletic events worldwide to raise money for cancer research. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness this month, she completed a second half marathon in her hometown of Staten Island, NY.

Dr. Brockway credits her strong medical training, including her first year of med school in the United Kingdom as part of St. George’s University of Grenada School of Medicine/Northumbria University Four and Five-Year MD Program (formerly the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program), for getting her to where she is today. Following her internal medicine residency at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Dr. Brockway continued her studies as a hematology and oncology fellow at Mount Sinai before starting at MSKCC this past August—allowing her to come full circle.

“Coming back to work at Memorial Sloan Kettering was always a hope and a dream for me,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to work and being here feels like being part of a family committed to a common purpose. It still doesn’t feel real.”

Julia Brockway-Marchello, MD, Breast Oncologist

– Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Helped 2019 Graduate Succeed “Beyond Medical School”

Dr. Tanner Storozuk, a 2019 graduate of St. George’s University, traveled far and wide to pursue his dream of becoming a physician. Now, the Canadian native is working in the field as a pathology resident at the University of Chicago.

“It’s hard to identify the specific moment when I knew that I wanted to become a doctor,” he said. “It’s one of those things that’s was ingrained in me from a young age.”

Dr. Storozuk grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and received his degree from the University of Manitoba. Though undergraduate students couldn’t pursue a traditional “pre-med” track, he tailored his courses to ensure he’d be well prepared to take the MCAT. Like many Canadian students, he first considered medical schools in Manitoba.

But then St. George’s crossed his radar—in a fairly untraditional way.

“My mom was walking our dog, and ran into a friend whose son was studying at SGU,” he said. “He had a great experience, so I started researching Caribbean medical schools. I ultimately selected SGU because of its long history of success in preparing students for the step exams and for residencies.”

Dr. Storozuk participated in the St. George’s University School of Medicine/Northumbria University 4-Year MD Program (then the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program), which allows St. George’s students to spend their first year of medical school at NU in the United Kingdom. The program’s small class size and the opportunity to study medicine abroad were particularly attractive.

“It was really special because we were just a group of 80 people,” he said. “It enabled me to develop close relationships with both my professors and the other students.”

Dr. Storozuk was first exposed to pathology during his third-year surgery rotation. He decided to pursue a residency in the specialty after completing a pathology rotation with Cleveland Clinic Florida, a branch of the Ohio-based medical center that operates several locations in the Sunshine State.

He applied to dozens of residency programs through the Match process but hoped to end up in Chicago, given that he’d also completed clinical rotations there in his third and fourth years of medical school.

“Chicago has multiple programs that have reputations for producing successful residents, fellows, and pathologists,” he said. “The people at the University of Chicago are incredibly nice—and having already lived there, I couldn’t be happier with my match. Plus, Winnipeg is just a two-hour plane ride away.”

Dr. Storozuk’s journey has given him a perspective that others considering careers in medicine may find valuable. “I would tell future applicants that St. George’s does a great job of preparing you to succeed beyond medical school,” he said. “More and more SGU grads are entering US residency programs every single year—and if you haven’t met an SGU grad yet, you will eventually.”