SGU Alum’s Passion for Family Medicine Leads to AAFP Directorship

Advocacy seems to come naturally for Andrew J.P. Carroll, MD ’96, founder, owner, and medical director of Atembis LLC, an integrated medical-behavioral family medicine practice in Chandler, AZ. As a St. George’s University student in the early ‘90s, he had his first foray into advocacy by representing the University to ask the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) to allow the school to host the organization’s first offshore chapter and ultimately secured a charter.

Nearly 30 years later, having been elected to sit on the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) for 2019-2020, Dr. Carroll will be able to channel his talents as part of a group tasked with advocating on behalf of more than 134,000 family physicians and medical students across the United States. The appointment is a culmination of his experience in practicing family medicine for more than 20 years as well as his passion and dedication to primary care.

“The grassroots family physician hasn’t been heard loud enough,” Dr. Carroll said in a phone interview. “I want to be that loud voice.”

Dr. Carroll started campaigning for the AAFP board position in 2018. He was elected during the AAFP annual Congress of Delegates which took place on September 25 in Philadelphia, PA. Among topics that are close to his heart: the nation’s shortage of primary care physicians. Dr. Carroll attributes the issue to a financial dichotomy between high debt acquired by students during medical school and the low compensation typically received when practicing primary care, which deters students from entering the field and instead choosing higher-paying medical specialties.

“A lot of physicians have ideas for solutions, but we don’t have a voice,” Dr. Carroll said. “The AAFP affords us that position. It’s important to have someone at the table who is actively speaking on everyone’s behalf. That’s the reason I did it.”

Dr. Carroll has been actively involved in supporting family practitioners in his state. In 2010, he was elected to represent the Arizona Academy of Family Physicians (AzAFP) at the AAFP’s annual Congress of Delegates—the organization’s governing body. He has also served the chapter in various executive positions including its past president (2014-2015) and remains today as a Board Member.

“When I first met Andrew almost 14 years ago, I knew immediately that he would be a leader,” said Laura Dearing, executive vice president of Arizona Academy of Family Physicians. “Dr. Carroll has always been giving of his time with our Board, to testify at the state legislature, and to promote leadership within the young physician community. His quick wit and empathetic nature have made him a superstar in the family medicine community in Arizona and in the US. Any state chapter executive would be honored to work with him because he is respectful, smart, funny, and most of all, nice.”

Dr. Bill Thrift, a professional colleague of Carroll’s through the AzAFP and a family physician in Prescott, AZ, said Dr. Carroll’s progressive way of treating patients while running a successful private practice will be a big asset to the AAFP.

“He is right in the thick of it and so his perspective comes from the front lines—that’s a good thing,” Dr. Thrift said. “We are more than proud of Andrew and we know that he is going to not only represent Arizona physicians well but represent America’s physicians well.”

On a local level, Dr. Carroll has owned and grown into an integrated care practice since 2003, offering services ranging from chronic disease management, behavioral treatment, and wellness consultations to interventional procedures and pediatric care among others, all in one place. In addition to traditional payer patients, he also cares for uninsured patients, those without a private or employer health plan, and those who are not eligible for federal or state insurance benefits by providing cost-conscientious care and arranging for diagnostic studies to be done at or near cost.

“If someone is having low-risk chest pain, I want to be his first call, not a cardiologist,” Dr. Carroll said. “It could be gas, it could be indigestion, it could be rib pain, etc., instead of a heart attack. We need to get back to the point in primary care where we have proven our worth to patients and they make us their first stop when something is wrong. We can only do that if we’re easily accessible. The current payment system does not allow for this.”

“The skill set we have as family doctors is suited for rural communities, but I am in the middle of a city,” he added. “People who choose us like to say, ‘hey, that’s my doctor.’ It’s about giving them a small-town feel and touch as the community’s physician—which is really what we are.”

– Laurie Chartorynsky

Cardiologist’s Heart Is With Grenada

St. George’s University graduate Thomas Vazzana, MD ’85, feels compelled to give back to the place where he began his three-decade-long career in medicine. Now a practicing interventional cardiologist in New York, Dr. Vazzana provides essential cardiology services to the people of Grenada free of charge.

The impact of his visits is undeniable, but there is still work to be done, which is why he returns two to three times a year to the island that gave him his start.

“Education is key, especially when explaining how important it is for patients to continue taking their medication—but I think we’re making progress,” said Dr. Vazzana, associate director of the cardiology fellowship program at Staten Island University Hospital. “I see several of the same patients and follow up with them when I’m here, and they’re doing fine.”

His visits are arranged through the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network (SGU-PHuN), a program that enables St. George’s University alumni and friends to aid the Ministry of Health and Government of Grenada in improving healthcare in the country.

Since its official launch in 2008, the adult cardiology program continues to provide much-needed heart care services for at least 10 months of the year. With each visit seeing approximately 15-20 patients per day and about 80 each week, the program offers consultations, cardiac testing, pacemaker implantations, angioplasties, echocardiograms, and referrals for those needing advanced care. It has provided millions of dollars in service to the Grenadian community, resulting in countless lives saved.

“Dr. Vazzana is a very special member of our cardiology team,” said Brendon La Grenade, vice provost for institutional advancement. “He makes up one of only a handful of interventional cardiologists providing vital cardiovascular services to our population. From the program’s inception under coordinator Johansen Sylvester, MD ’00, to now in its 11th year, we at SGU are thankful to Dr. Vazzana and the vast network of alumni and friends who allow SGU and the Government of Grenada to bridge the cap in healthcare disparity.”

For several years, Dr. Vazzana has been making the trip to Grenada with his wife, Kathleen, a hospital administrator who serves as his clinical assistant while in Grenada. Now, also eager to return is their daughter Virginia Vazzana, MD ’17, who attended SGU after she and her older sister participated in the Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy a few years earlier. While there, Dr. V. Vazzana also married fellow SGU alum Hamfreth Shaul Rahming, MD ’17. Both are currently completing their residencies in pediatric endocrinology and internal medicine respectively. According to the elder Vazzana, he made sure to pass along his passion for paying it forward.

“I always say, especially to my students, ‘when you get to your final destination, don’t forget where you came from,’” Dr. Vazzana added. “Because if it wasn’t for here, you wouldn’t have gotten to there.”

 

About Dr. Vazzana

Dr. Thomas Vazzana graduated with a bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1981 before earning his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine in 1985. He then completed an internship and residency at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Paterson, NJ, before serving as a cardiology fellow at the former St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center, West Brighton (now Richmond University Medical Center). He became an attending physician at St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in Manhattan and held the same position at the former Doctors’ Hospital in Concord and again in West Brighton until July 1991, when he opened his own practice.

Two years later, Dr. Vazzana teamed up with fellow cardiologist, Dr. Marc Bogin and was managing partner at Vazzana and Bogin Cardiology Associates in Staten Island until 2011. Dr. Vazzana also served as co-director of the cardiology division for the Staten Island Physician Practice until 2012 and is currently an associate professor at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University.

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU Establishes New Alumni Association in Botswana

SGU launches new Botswanna Alumni Association

St. George’s University has announced the establishment of a new SGU Alumni Association in Botswana—the first such association in Africa, in a country where one in every five practicing physicians is a graduate of SGU.

The association provides a platform for personal and professional development and aims to strengthen the ties between alumni, the community, and the University through outreach and regional events.

The establishment of the Botswana alumni chapter was announced by Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of SGU and Robert Alig, vice president of alumni affairs, at a special launch event on September 21 at the Avani Resort in Gaborone.

“The new chapter in Botswana will offer our graduates here the chance to connect with their fellow alumni in the country, and hundreds more in Africa and beyond,” said Alig. “We are thrilled to be launching this chapter which will assist graduates of SGU by strengthening personal and professional networks and laying the foundations for new ones.”

 

Earlier the same day, Dr. Olds led a workshop on “How to Get Into a Top Medical School,” as part of the Inspired Horizons international careers fair in Gaborone. Dr. Olds shared experiences and insights from his career in medicine and medical education, and spoke with prospective Botswanan medical students about applying to SGU.

“We believe the best way to give our students a truly global medical education is to foster a community of global scholars, who will go on to work as physicians and medical professionals all around the world,” said Dr. Olds.

Dr. Orapeleng Phuswane-Katse, a 2011 graduate of SGU from Mochudi, Botswana, now works as medical officer in at Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone and is doing her residency in public health medicine. She welcomed the announcement of the new alumni chapter in Botswana.

“SGU gave me the opportunity to study in the Caribbean and undertake clinical rotations in the UK,” she said. “It was always my intention to return to practice in Botswana, and this new alumni association will be an especially valuable platform for connecting graduates working throughout the country and demonstrating SGU’s commitment to producing skilled, capable doctors through training and career development opportunities.”

In August, SGU and the Inspired Horizons Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further education development for Botswanan students and facilitate opportunities for cooperation between both parties.

Alumni Association Announces “Art of Medicine” Continuing Ed Conference

 

The St. George’s University School of Medicine Alumni Association (SOMAA) invite SGU graduates and all medical professionals to its annual “Art of Medicine” continuing medical education (CME) conference in Grenada from March 9-12, 2020.

According to SOMAA President Bruce Bonanno, MD ’83, SOMAA president, its goal is to further harvest physicians’ passion for medicine, on the island that, for many, is where it all began.

“This conference welcomes doctors to reconnect with their profession, to build upon the foundation they’ve already created, and for SGU graduates, to get back to their roots,” said Dr. Bonanno, an emergency medicine physician based in New Jersey.

The four-day event features presentations from experts on a wide variety of fields, with several discussions led by SGU alumni. They include:

  •  “Hematologic Disease in Older People” – Shannon O’Connor, MD ’05
  • “Headache: It’s All In Your Head” – Paul Mathew, MD ’05
  • “Hypoxia – When Seconds Matter” – Pierre Moeser, MD ’83
  • “Maintenance of Certification: Reform or Reboot?” – Paul Mathew, MD ’05
  • “Monoclonal Antibody Use in Rheumatic Diseases” – Pierre Moeser, MD ’83
  • “Decoding the Alphabet Soup of Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)” – Nirav Shah, MD ’02
  • “All About Gout” – Suneet Grewal, MD ’08
  • “Genetic Diseases in Cancer” – Shannon O’Connor, MD ’05
  • “Hepatitis is a Cure” – George Gartin, MD
  • “Psoriatic Arthritis” – Suneet Grewal, MD ’08
  • “How to Have a Baby Without Having Sex: New Frontiers in Reproduction” – Samuel Jacobs, MD ’82
  • “Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): Where Are We Now?” – Nirav Shah, MD ’02
  • “Nutrition in Chronic Disease” – Taraneh Soleymani, MD ’07
  • “Obesity Treatment – How Far Have We Come?” – Sunil Daniel, MD ’07
  • “Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)” – George Gartin, MD

Conference participants are eligible to receive 16 CME credits certified by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). In addition to the discussion schedule, visitors can enjoy a full slate of leisure activities, including campus tours, dinner at the University Club, catamaran cruises, and more.

“Each year, we have added more and more to the continuing medical education conference in Grenada,” said Dr. Bonanno. “We encourage all alumni to take advantage of this opportunity to learn and to once again enjoy this beautiful island.”

Profound Impact: SGU Educated Second-Most Licensed Physicians in US in 2018

For more than 40 years, St. George’s University has provided highly qualified physicians to the United States, and never before has its impact been more evident. According to a recent report published in the Journal of Medical Regulation, SGU educated the second-most licensed physicians in the United States in 2018.

The research, titled “Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) Census of Licensed Physicians in the United States, 2018,” showed that 10,791 US-based doctors had graduated from St. George’s University, the most among international medical schools, including those in the Caribbean. SGU stood behind only Indiana University School of Medicine with 11,828 graduates worldwide.

“St. George’s University physicians are making a positive influence on US healthcare every day and in every corner of the country,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of SGU. “We are proud of the quality of care they provide and look forward to continuing our mission of training doctors of the highest caliber.”

In 2019 alone, SGU graduates secured more than 960 US residencies in 43 states and in specialties ranging from anesthesiology and emergency medicine to pediatrics and surgery. It marks the fifth consecutive year that SGU was the number one provider of new doctors to the US healthcare system.

The FSMB report also revealed that the percentage of practicing doctors who graduated from a Caribbean medical school had grown by 78 percent since 2010. Since opening its doors in 1977, SGU has trained more than 16,000 School of Medicine graduates who have gone on to practice in all 50 United States and more than 50 countries around the world.

“St. George’s University is committed to preparing our students with the foundation of knowledge and clinical skills to prosper in their medical careers,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, vice chancellor of SGU. “Our graduates have not only demonstrated their excellence in a hospital setting but also the profound effect that, collectively, they have on medical care in the US and globally.”

-Laurie Chartorynsky

2019 SGU Graduate Follows in Father’s Footsteps

Tracey O’Brien, MD ’19, with Chancellor Charles Modica and father John O’Brien, MD ’81, at commencement ceremonies in New York City

Connecticut native Dr. Tracey O’Brien travelled thousands of miles to attend St. George’s University. But for the 2019 graduate, a new internal medicine resident at Queens Hospital Center in New York, studying medicine in Grenada also represented a homecoming of sorts.

“My dad was a member of the St. George’s University charter class,” Dr. O’Brien said. “He’s taken my family on multiple trips to Grenada. I became very familiar with the island, the school, and all those who live there.”

On one trip, her father brought her and her family to a local hospital. Seeing the amputees’ limited access to care prompted him to open a prosthetics clinic. The entire O’Brien family worked at the clinic, which has since helped dozens of Grenadians walk again.

“The resilience of the patients was inspiring,” Dr. O’Brien said. “At the beginning, they’re leaning on your shoulder and struggling to move by themselves. But within just a half hour, they’re walking out the door. They were so appreciative, and it was so rewarding to see that.”

Dr. O’Brien’s work in the prosthetics clinic helped her realize her dreams of becoming a doctor—but not without a few detours along the way.

Initially, she planned to pursue veterinary medicine. She received an undergraduate degree in animal science from the University of Connecticut and worked at a zoo and a veterinary office. But she could not help but feel that something was missing.

“I’d gained significant experience with animal science,” Dr. O’Brien said. “But I also wanted to give back to the community and help people who were suffering. That’s when I realized I wanted to become a physician—and to start my career at the school where my dad learned to help people.”

St. George’s was the perfect fit for multiple reasons. Dr. O’Brien enjoyed SGU’s lecture-based curriculum and collaborative work environment. Her love of engaging with others made picking a specialty for residency an easy choice.

“I really am a people person, and that’s why I fell in love with internal medicine,” she said. “You get to know your patients so well, and really help them with all facets of their health.”

Dr. O’Brien is thrilled to be practicing medicine in New York. But she’s looking forward to returning to Grenada—to give back to the community that set her on the path toward becoming a doctor.

“I definitely plan on returning and providing the community with the healthcare services they need,” she said. “I would love to do that.”

2019 Resident: Time at SGU Was “Best of My Life”

Kate Alemann, MD ’19

Dr. Kate Alemann has racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles. The New Zealand native, a 2019 St. George’s University graduate and newly minted resident, has traversed the globe to pursue her dream of becoming a physician.

“Living in Grenada was entirely new to me. But when I got to St. George’s University, I realized I was surrounded by people who shared my love for medicine,” said Dr. Alemann, who joined the emergency medicine residency program at Saint Louis University School of Medicine this summer. “Like me, they were willing to travel thousands of miles to prove they had what it took to be a physician.”

Dr. Alemann grew up in Auckland and spent much of her youth sailing, surfing, and playing basketball. She excelled on the basketball court, ultimately joining New Zealand’s national team and playing in the Australian Youth Olympic Tournament at the age of 17.

Her athletic prowess caught the attention of colleges in the United States. She played at Mineral Area College in Missouri from 2010 to 2012 and then transferred to Mercer College, a Division I program in Macon, GA.

For Dr. Alemann, choosing to play basketball at an elite level was a given. Choosing a major proved more difficult.

“I really struggled with deciding what I wanted to study. But my favorite class in high school was a sports science course,” she said. “It dealt with the science behind optimizing physical performance. I really loved learning about the human body, so I decided to declare pre-med. Looking back, it was the best decision I ever made.”

After college, Dr. Alemann worked in an urgent care clinic as a patient care representative. Once she arrived at SGU, she served as an instructor and guidance counselor at the Department of Educational Services.

“I loved every subject at SGU. As we progressed each semester, the material became even more interesting,” she said. “I really feel that SGU gave us all the tools we needed to excel.”

When it came time to select a specialty, Dr. Alemann knew she wanted to work in a fast-paced, active environment.

“I remember one particular night shift in the emergency department that was insanely busy,” she said. “That might have been stressful for some people. But when I left the hospital afterward, I was happier than when I’d walked in the door 13 hours earlier.”

Now, Dr. Alemann experiences that sense of fulfillment every day, as an emergency medicine resident in St. Louis.

“It’s the best feeling to finally practice as a doctor,” she said. “I’m thrilled with my match, and I’m already learning so much.”

“On the interview trail, I heard from multiple hospitals that SGU graduates are some of the most hardworking and professional residents,” Dr. Alemann said. “For anyone considering SGU, I can honestly say my years on the island were some of the best of my life.”

MD Grad Recognized as Chief Resident of the Decade at Maimonides

Dr. Joshua Ramjist was both humbled and surprised as the crowded room—full of his peers and mentors—rose to its feet. Just moments earlier, he had been announced not only as Maimonides Medical Center Department of Surgery’s Chief Resident of the Year but its Chief Resident of the Decade.

The 2011 St. George’s University alum was presented the award by Dr. Patrick Borgen, Surgery Chair at Maimonides, at the department’s graduation ceremony held at Above Rooftop on Staten Island in June. Dr. Ramjist was recognized for his impact not only with patients but on the hospital and the education of the residents and medical students he oversaw.

“In the audience were chief residents who were there when I was a medical student. Coming into the program, they were my heroes; I wanted to be like them,” said Dr. Ramjist, who began a pediatric trauma fellowship at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto this month. “To be acknowledged by them and to see the pride they had in helping me become who I am was incredible.”

Dr. Ramjist estimated that there have been between 50 and 75 chief residents in the department over the past decade.

“It was a complete surprise,” he said. “It was surreal to get a standing ovation. I was hoping to Chief Resident of the Year and thought that would be great, but this upped the bar significantly.”

In applying for residencies, Dr. Ramjist was drawn to Maimonides, where he had rotated during Year 3 as an SGU student. He not only enjoyed his clinical experience there, but also cited the hospital’s affinity for SGU grads as well as its history in surgery as deciding factors. Maimonides was the site for the first heart transplant in the US, and the intra-aortic balloon pump, a key innovation in cardiac procedures, was developed in its research lab.

“Maimonides is always pushing the needle,” he said. “It’s full of this rich history that is woven into the tapestry of Brooklyn and of America as a whole.”

Dr. Ramjist trained as a resident at Maimonides through 2019, a tenure that also included a two-year research stint at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, from which he earned a Master of Science. In addition, Dr. Ramjist obtained his Master of Business Administration in Multi-Sector Healthcare Management from SGU.

“Much of what I did for changing the face value of the department came from what I learned in the MBA program,” he said. “How I wanted us to be structured as an organization from a residency perspective stemmed from identifying leadership, establishing a chain of command, maintaining checks and balances, and applying the principles of leadership and management.”

Dr. Ramjist has also given back to his alma mater, conducting student interviews as well as mentoring students as an advisor in SGU’s Office of Career Guidance and Student Development.

– Brett Mauser

2019 Resident “Can’t Imagine a More Supportive Environment”

Gaelle Antoine, MD ’19

“Why do my arms fold this way? How can I feel my heart, but not see it?”

Most children don’t quiz their parents about human anatomy. But Gaelle Antoine, a 2019 graduate of St. George’s University and future anesthesiologist, was fascinated with the workings of the human body from an early age.

“My mother is a nurse, so I spent a great deal of time in hospital wards growing up,” Dr. Antoine said. “I still remember how dedicated she was to her patients, and how thankful they were when they recovered under her care. That connection was inspiring to me—and drove my interest in a career in medicine.”

Earlier thismonth, Dr. Antoine began a yearlong preliminary program in internal medicine at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, NY. Next year, she’ll start an anesthesiology residency at Brown University, where she’ll be working at Rhode Island Hospital/Lifespan Health System.

Dr. Antoine’s childhood spanned North America. She was born in Brooklyn, but grew up in Haiti. However, the political instability there drove her family to move to Tampa, FL, in 2005. She eventually returned to New York for her senior year of high school. After graduating, Dr. Antoine enrolled at Brooklyn College for premedical training and Biological Sciences.

She applied to St. George’s University after receiving her college diploma. SGU appealed to Dr. Antoine for many reasons—paramount among them, a family connection.

“My brother actually went to SGU and had a great experience,” Dr. Antoine said. “It was easy for me to decide to attend. It basically runs in my family.”

Choosing a specialty proved more challenging. Pediatrics, OB/GYN, and several others interested her. But when she discovered anesthesiology during her clinical rotations, Dr. Antoine realized she had found her calling.

“Anesthesiology offers the perfect combination of the medical complexities of internal medicine with the procedural aspects of surgery,” she said. “Many of my classmates found the surgeries more interesting. But anesthesiology was more fascinating to me than operations.”

Securing an anesthesiology residency is difficult. But Dr. Antoine impressed her future colleagues at Brown.

“Brown put more weight on the quality of the individual student, and their dedication to learning,” she said. “That was attractive to me.”

Dr. Antoine also appreciated that Brown valued diversity, especially given that anesthesiology has historically been dominated by men.

“The residency program director takes the time to ask the women in our program how he can improve their individual experiences,” she said. “Being in a field that’s 80 percent male—that means so much to me. That’s when I realized Brown was where I wanted to train. I can’t imagine a more supportive community.”

Dr. Antoine attributes her success in part to SGU’s supportive community. “The resources provided in the Department of Educational Services were unparalleled,” she said. “The well-rounded curriculum at St. George’s was key to my success on both my USMLE and in matching into my residency.”

Our faculty pushed us to be our best—and it wasn’t the easiest at times,” she added. “But in the long run, if you put in the work and stay focused, it will pay off.”