World Health Organization redesignates collaborating center at SGU

As public health has become even more of a focus with the emergence of COVID-19 worldwide, St. George’s University continues to be a beacon for education, research, and service collaboration in the Caribbean. The World Health Organization (WHO), together with its regional representative, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), recently re-designated SGU’s Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPHPM) as a Collaborating Center (WHO CC) on Environmental and Occupational Health through August 2023.

Such centers are established to support global health initiatives implemented by the WHO, for the benefit of all member countries. The designation provides a foundation for collaborating centers to develop partnerships with national and international authorities, as well as to generate resources from funding partners.

Dr. Christine Richards

“The continued efforts by faculty and students as well as civil society, governmental and international partnerships demonstrate the benefit of collaboration in public health, which the WHO CC symbolizes,” said Dr. Christine Richards, DPHPM interim chair, who leads the Collaborating Center with SGU faculty member Odran Nigel Edwards.

The WHO CC was originally established on the SGU campus in 2012. The DPHPM, together with the Windward Island Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), also located on SGU’s campus, are uniquely positioned to lend support, having collaborated on several environmental research programs that addressed occupational health among nutmeg workers and health care workers, renewable energy, land degradation, food and water borne diseases, and zoonotic diseases and presently the response to COVID-19.

SGU’s DPHPM, along with WINDREF, also serves as the Caribbean’s only United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) since 2013. The UNFCCC RCC’s primary goal is to work with public and private sector organizations, as well as government agencies, to enhance the implementation of clear technology activities for the Caribbean the region in order to achieve carbon reduction targets to mitigate climate change.

– Brett Mauser

SVM Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise Dishes on Crucial Communication Skills for Veterinarians

Vet telehealth

At the heart of any relationship, including doctor-to-patient, and whether that patient is human or animal, is good communication.

Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise, assistant dean of fourth-year clinical training for the School of Veterinary Medicine and professor in the Department of Large Animal Medicine and Surgery, explained why it is important that vet students receive ample training and preparation of effective client communication skills, including a focus on the growing practice of telehealth within vet medicine.

St. George’s University: How are communication topics taught to vet students?

Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise, assistant dean of fourth-year clinical training for the School of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise

Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise: Students are required to take client communication labs as part of SVM’s Professional Development Curriculum, which is a set of six courses that occur in Terms 1-6. The curriculum focuses on the “non-technical competencies” that successful veterinarian’s practice on a daily basis. These competencies include, but are not limited to:

  • leadership
  • communication
  • ethics
  • wellness
  • business/financial literacy
  • evidence-based practice

Part of the communication curriculum includes laboratory sessions where students practice client communication with simulated clients (SCs), or actors who have been trained extensively to fill this role in the curriculum. Through these simulations, students gain invaluable experience before being placed into a real exam room with a real client. These labs are mandatory and occur in Terms 5 and 6.

SGU: How did the curriculum translate to virtual learning once the pandemic hit?

Dr. Wise: Before COVID, these labs occurred in person but when the pandemic forced campus closure, we adapted the labs to an online format over Zoom. Working with our collaborators in the Washington State University CVM Clinical Communication Program, for the Fall 2020 term we have altered these labs to focus on telehealth and the role that this plays in the lives of veterinarians all over the world due to the pandemic. Aside from the SCs, the labs are team taught by SVM faculty who are passionate about this topic and have been trained to coach the students through these experiences.

SGU: Do the labs include both small and large animal cases?

Dr. Wise: For the Fall 2020 term we only focused on small animal cases, but for the Spring 2021 term we will be adding large animal as well. But the beauty of communication skills is that it really has nothing to do with the species or the details of the case. You can connect with your client in the same way, using the same skills, whether you are examining a kitten or a chicken.

SGU: What are the key takeaways that students should know after taking the course?

Dr. Wise: First, it is important that students realize these skills are learned just like learning to spay a dog. You are not born being a good communicator. It takes work and practice—yet mastering these skills is extremely important to be a successful veterinarian.

Secondly, everyone’s communication style is different. It takes lots of practice to find what works for you and your clients. And these labs give them the tools and experience to continue their growth in clinical year and once in practice.

SGU: Why is telemedicine is an increasingly important practice in vet medicine?

Dr. Wise: The pandemic has created a situation where many veterinarians are reducing their contact with the public to protect themselves and their staff. As such, many client interactions are being done over the phone or on Zoom. We felt it was very important to use these labs as a platform for students to be exposed to this type of communication since many of them will likely need to feel comfortable with it in the future.

SGU: Why will it be important for students to know these skills as they enter their careers?

Dr. Wise: Being able to effectively communicate with your clients is one of the main skills that most veterinarians will use on a daily basis. Research shows us that effective communication reduces client complaints, increases client compliance (which results in healthier pets), and enhances veterinary job satisfaction (and thus wellness).

– Laurie Chartorynsky

School of Veterinary Medicine Spotlight: A Look Inside the Large Animal Resource Facility

St. George’s University’s Large Animal Resource Facility (LARF) is a one-acre farm located just outside of its True Blue campus in Grenada. The facility is home to the equine and bovine teaching herds that students of the School of Veterinary Medicine use to gain crucial large animal clinical skills prior to their fourth year.

Dr. Inga Karasek, director of the Large Animal Resource Facility and an assistant professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine, is one of a dozen SGU faculty and staff members, including technicians, clerks, and veterinarians, who care for the animals living on the LARF. She was also one of a handful of SGU staff who remained on the island to care for the animals during the early days of the global pandemic. Dr. Karasek shared why the farm’s ecosystem—even while students are learning remotely—is important to studying veterinary medicine at SGU.

St. George’s University: Why is the facility important for students who are learning veterinary medicine?

Inga Karasek: The majority of today’s students come from cities or heavily populated areas. Gone are the days where most veterinary students came from rural counties. This means that the average veterinary student has had no or minimal exposure to large animals. Veterinary students are expected to become proficient in dealing with all species by the time they are finished with their curriculum. It is important for them to acquire the skills and the confidence of handling large animals prior to their clinical year.

SGU: What type of hands-on experience do students receive through the LARF?

IK: Students learn to complete physical examinations on the cows, horses, and donkeys with more specialized examinations in upper terms, e.g. lameness examinations and neurologic examinations in horses. In their last year, they are also able to perform reproductive examinations on the bovine herd.

SGU: How has the LARF incorporated distance learning while students are away from campus?

IK: We recently did a live zoom session for SGU’s large animal society where we looked at a couple of lame horses on the yard. Our large animal professors are also incorporating live physical examination sessions for their courses as well. In addition, there are a handful of term 6 students on island and they came to the LARF to cover their clinical skills externship requirements for the term. We also allow a small number of students to come and help at the weekends if they so wish. All, of course, following COVID protocols.

SGU: How do you protect the animals?

IK: Animals are vaccinated against endemic diseases and have 24/7 veterinary care. Every time an animal is used in a lab with students, it is noted in their “Animal Use” files to ensure that animals are not being overused. This is also a mandate of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which every institution that uses live animals for teaching or research purposes must have in place. (The IACUC reviews the practices on the LARF and other areas at SGU where live animals are to ensure that animals are always treated fairly.)

SGU: During the height of the COVID pandemic, who took care of the animals? What precautions were put in place and continue to be practiced for safe veterinary care?

IK: The farm staff, myself, and Drs. Janicke and Nigito took care of the animals. During the early days of the pandemic, we implemented an initiative where only two staff members and one veterinarian were allowed to be on the farm at a time. This allowed us to practice social distancing, even if it did make some jobs more challenging accomplish. Today, masks must be worn if persons are working in close proximity with each other, while handwashing/sanitizing is to be done prior to entering the LARF and on leaving. There is a boot wash to walk through on entering and leaving. As mandated by SGU, all staff and faculty are PCR tested as well.

SGU: What is one thing you would like the SGU community to know about the LARF?

IK: Students really enjoy spending time on the LARF, and many have made the point that they were surprised by how much they enjoyed working with the horses and cows. These experiences really open their eyes to the possibility of working in mixed animal or large animal practices upon graduation. This is a great thing—as North America is lacking large animal veterinarians, especially in very rural areas, and this will affect the care of the production of animals in those regions (cattle, pigs, chickens, etc.).

The veterinarians that work here are also those involved in the One Health, One Medicine clinics and go out to local farms with students to take care of the community’s large animals.

SGU: Anything else about the SGU community should know about the LARF?

IK: I believe one of the strengths of the program at SGU is that because of the relatively basic setup of our facility, students get multiple opportunities to practice real-life general practitioner’s difficulties that need creative solutions. This makes our students (and faculty) become more flexible and resourceful people, and able to find solutions with minimal resources.

We are proud of the work that the LARF does and its contributions to making SGU students’ excellent veterinarians.

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

School of Veterinary Medicine Hosts Virtual Wellness Event for Students

More than 50 veterinary students attended a virtual wellness event on Saturday, October 17, hosted by St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the SVM Affairs group.

The Zoom presentation featured Dr. Melanie Goble, vice president and a founding board member of Not One More Vet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterinarians in need of mental health support. Dr. Goble’s presentation was titled “Finding Motivation, Setting Boundaries, and Life During COVID.”

Following Dr. Goble’s speech, there was a question-and-answer panel consisting of Dr. Goble; Dr. Barbara Landon, director of SGU’s Psychological Services Center; Dr. Adria Rodriguez, SVM’s wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion officer and the faculty advisor the SVM Wellness Committee; as well as Drs. India Paharsingh, Arend Werners, and Anne Marie Corrigan. The Q&A consisted of questions submitted by the students of the SVM community.

“We are thrilled with the turnout for our virtual mental health event,” said Jennifer Kirk, DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s president of SVM Affairs. “Mental health is a very serious issue in the field of veterinary medicine, particularly during this unprecedented time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal was to provide students with resources and an opportunity to ask questions and provide a sense of community and support that we are all in this together.”

Dr. Corrigan, SVM’s associate dean of academic programs and professor of small animal medicine and Surgery, echoed Ms. Kirk’s sentiment: “Dr. Goble provided a very engaging discussion about the necessity of self-care. We plan to host more of these events for our students.”

Emotional and Psychological Support  

To acknowledge World Mental Health Day, SGU reminded students of the free mental health support resources provided by the school.

If you or one of your colleagues needs help, there are several options:

  • Email PSCscheduling@sgu.edu to set up an appointment with a psychologist. Crisis appointments are available 24/7 by phoning the Psychological Services Center at (473) 439-2277 during business hours, or after 5pm and on weekends through the University Health Clinic at (473) 444-4671.
  • To receive 24/7 counseling services, register with Brooklyn Counseling Service at SGU-BCS Counseling or call (877) 328-0993.
  • Visit our self-help resources page or our Instagram page for tips about managing stress and isolation related to COVID-19.
  • Visit the Well on the SGU portal for a collection of health and wellness activities and resources from SGU designed to help your mind, body, and soul.
  • Use the self-help therapy app WellTrack for self-help. WellTrack will track your mood, and contains quick recorded lessons for managing depression, anxiety, and stress.

Additional Mental Health Resources

Dr. Landon hosts a weekly Mindfulness Workshop on Thursdays at 12pm AST. All are invited to join (https://sgu.zoom.us/j/97007160217; Meeting ID: 970 0716 0217).

Students are encouraged to take advantage of these services and to review the resources available from the Psychological Services Center.

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

Faculty Spotlight: SGU’s Dr. Frances McGill Speaks Candidly About Women’s Health

Dr. Frances McGill, a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, is a graduate of St. George’s University and professor of clinical skills and obstetrics-gynecology to School of Medicine students. She shared with us the importance of preventive health, current health issues facing women today, ovarian cancer signs, and more.

 

SGU: How important is preventive health for women?

FM: Preventive health—a healthy lifestyle, finding disease at early stages, and prevention—has decreased the burden of illness and death.

Mammograms have led to earlier diagnoses and outcomes of breast cancer. Screening should begin between ages 40 and 50 and be done every 1 to 2 years, earlier if a woman is at risk. Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • not having biological children
  • early-onset menstruation
  • late-onset menopause
  • obesity
  • and
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • personal positive genetic testing of BRCA1 and BRCA2

 

SGU: How can women stay in good health?

FM: Staying in good health requires seeing your healthcare provider regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise three times per week, (ideally daily), having a positive outlook, enjoying positive relationships, and setting realistic goals.

 

SGU: What are the most pressing health issues women are dealing with today?

FM: Obviously, the most pressing health issue today is the COVID-19 pandemic. Otherwise, heart disease and cancer remain a major health issue, with lung cancer being most prevalent. If you smoke, take advantage of smoking cessation programs like SmokeFree.gov.

Colon cancer identified early by screening can also improve prognoses.

Breast cancer occurs in approximately one in every eight women. Again, early screening by mammograms can identify cancer  at  early  stages, results  in  more  options for treatment, and saves lives.

Heart health is critical for everyone. Heart disease and stroke kill more women (and men) than cancer. Heart disease is sometimes erroneously considered a “disease of men” or less life-threatening than cancer. Heart attack and stroke risk can be reduced by:

  • strict control of blood pressure
  • a low-salt, low-cholesterol diet
  • weight control
  • exercise
  • daily use of prescribed blood pressure medications
  • seek immediate care for a new severe chest, left arm, neck, or left mouth pain. A “heart attack “in women may give different symptoms that the usual chest pain.

 

SGU: September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Knowing that ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose in the beginning stages, what early screening is available? Are there signs that women should know? 

FM: According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), ovarian cancer occurs in approximately one in every 78 women and is currently the fifth leading cause of death in women ages 35 to 74. Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • not having biological children
  • early-onset menstruation
  • late-onset menopause
  • endometriosis
  • personal positive genetic testing of BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • many blood relatives with cancer

The death rate from ovarian cancer is high, mainly because the diagnosis is commonly made in later stages when the cancer has already spread. Typically, there are few signs in earlier stages, but symptoms can include:

  • a feeling of fullness after eating (bloating)
  • decreased appetite
  • increased size of the abdomen
  • changes in bowel or bladder function

Screening for ovarian cancer is currently approved only for women at risk. Hopefully, screening for ovarian cancer will become a reality for all women in our lifetime because early detection is critical. The NOCC points out that the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent when diagnosed early, as opposed to a survival rate “as low as 28 percent” if caught in stage III or higher.

 

SGU: What classes do you teach, and what topics do you cover?

FM: I teach “Principles of Clinical Medicine” courses, “Communication and Physical Diagnosis,” and “Introduction to Clinical Medicine” to second-year medical school students. This prepares students to communicate with patients in a kind and professional fashion, examine the patient, and make a diagnosis. Within these courses, I teach the female reproductive system and the obstetrics-gynecology section.

 

New SGU Infectious Diseases Student Group Aims to Help Students Develop Skills to Address Specialty

Cognizant of the benefits of active student involvement, St. George’s University is home to more than 60 student organizations centered on different areas of student life: cultural, religious, social, academic, professional, and community service. Today, as the healthcare industry grapples with treating those affected by the current COVID-19 outbreak, none seem more relevant than the newly founded SGU Infectious Diseases Society (SGU IDS).

“There seems to be a club for just about everything at SGU,” said founder and president Stephanie Moody-Geissler, a Term 2 medical student. “So why not one that focuses on infectious diseases, an area of science that has been so deeply entwined with our history and humanity since the dawn of our existence? Infectious diseases are a part of everyone’s lives, personally and professionally, and with the current world situation, I think that makes us one of the most significant student groups right now.”

Created to raise awareness of key issues and topics relating to global infectious diseases, as relevant to both human and animal health, the group is open to all SGU students. Its aim is to improve the understanding of infectious diseases in terms of individual health, communities, and society.

“What students can expect to get out of joining this group are skills and knowledge that they can carry forward in their careers through exposure to topics that are directly relevant and in some cases can significantly impact human and animal health,” said Dr. Joanna Rayner, faculty advisor, SGU IDS and chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pharmacology. “My role is to focus that interest in infectious diseases and provide them with advice, ideas and contacts to the wider microbiology and infectious disease community.”

Although the new student organization is faced with some restrictions as students are currently distance learning, it didn’t diminish their excitement at planning to host various virtual events this term. The group has lined up guest speakers, including an SGU alumnus, who had recently returned from the far East where he was working with the World Health Organization on the COVID-19 response; a skills-based workshop on spotting bad science; a journal club for students to improve and build much-needed critical thinking skills; and virtual community outreach to bring science and microbiology into schools in Grenada.

“With much of the current media focus on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that there are still many other infectious diseases that continue to be important worldwide,” commented Dr. Rayner. “The Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED), one of the largest publicly available systems conducting global reporting of infectious diseases outbreaks, just recently posted updates on Ebola, malaria, West Nile Virus and tularemia. These and many other pathogenic microorganisms that cause morbidity and mortality in humans and animals have by no means gone away, providing further affirmation of the relevance and importance of this new student group.”

 

— Ray-Donna Peters 

Dual MD/MPH student creates hygiene training manual addressing public health in Grenada

Lucinda Dass, SOM student, creator of WASH training manual

For St. George’s University student Lucinda Dass, developing a hygiene manual—just as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up—seemed more important than ever. As part of her public health practicum, Ms. Dass worked with Grenada’s Basic Needs Trust Fund Cycle Nine Program to create the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Training Manual, which emphasized the importance of clean water, reducing the spread of germs, and learning how to properly dispose of waste.

“All over the world, measures were being put in place to contain the spread of the virus,” said Ms. Dass, a Term 4 Doctor of Medicine (MD)/Master of Public Health (MPH) student at SGU. “From face coverings and hand sanitizers to social distancing and home isolation, they were all included in some capacity in the WASH manual. With so many of us thrust into this new lifestyle, it seemed as though the manual was completed at just the right time.”

Working closely with her advisor, Dr. Lindonne Glasgow, Ms. Dass originally researched and crafted the manual focusing on the island of Grenada and its citizens. However, the novel coronavirus has run rampant around the world, and hence she believes that the manual can be applied globally.

“As an MD/MPH student, I have the opportunity to not only earn both degrees but to also engage in several professional development projects,” said Ms. Dass. “This one in particular I enjoyed because it contributed to the greater good of the Grenadian community and public health in general. Hopefully I can continue doing more projects like this in the future because they are simple yet effective in educating everyone—adults, children, and society as a whole.”

Currently continuing her education via distance learning from her home in Mount Vernon, NY, Ms. Dass channels all of her energy on her studies in hopes of contributing even more to the field of medicine after her graduation.

“I realized that the medical field is for me because it is a career that involves working and interacting closely with people in need, and more importantly, helping them become healthier at the same time,” she said. “Also, how many doctors can say they were actually studying in medical school during a pandemic? This has been quite the learning experience. I am grateful that none of my immediate family members have been fatally affected by the virus, but seeing the entire planet suffer through this crisis has proved to me even more why I am needed and belong in this field.”

 

— Ray-Donna Peters 

A Peek Inside the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Distance Learning Program

Distance Learning at SGU

Learning how to do an ultrasound on an animal is never easy yet it is an important component of practicing veterinary medicine. Learning how to do one virtually is even harder, yet the faculty at St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine have been able to successfully make the transition to a distance learning curriculum.

With classes conducted online for the Fall 2020 term, SVM administrators have shared how they were able to make the school’s virtual curriculum an engaging and stimulating experience for students.

“Our distance learning curriculum was developed with the student focus in mind,” said Dr. Neil Olson, DVM, PhD, dean of SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “By working with the SVM Student Government Association and polling students multiple times throughout the spring, we were able to make sure that student input about programs and courses led our conversations about how to implement our virtual curriculum.”

First Steps in Creating SVM’s Virtual Curriculum

“The first thing we did was create a Distance Education Team,” said Dr. Anne Corrigan, associate dean of SVM’s academic programs and professor of small animal medicine and surgery.

Chaired by Brian Butler, DVM­­/MPH ’05, assistant dean of the SVM academic programs for the School of Veterinary Medicine and a pathology professor, the group identified online needs and worked closely with the Department of Educational Services (DES), IT, and the Enterprise Teaching departments to develop the courses needed.

The SVM also polled students to flag concerns and issues and included valuable input from the Student Government Association’s SVM Affairs class representatives in the schedule and syllabi review for the fall term, Dr. Corrigan said.

One such concern: making sure students had access to all the materials needed. “We know that not everyone has a conducive workspace in their home, especially with WiFi issues,” said Jennifer Kirk, DVM ’22 (expected), president of the SVM Affairs. “We have been advocating for these students and, as a result, SVM made recordings downloadable so that students can stay on track despite these problems.”

The SVM Affairs group continues to communicate regularly with its Executive Board, its faculty advisor, Dr. Arend Werners, as well as University and SVM leadership.

Faculty Training

To prepare for the term, SVM faculty has been involved in intensive training on the new educational tools with the help of SGU’s IT team, Dr. Corrigan said.

The Distance Education Team also developed a best practices document for faculty to more appropriately choose the tools that will be of most benefit for their courses. SVM faculty also developed instructional clinical skills videos for students to promote muscle memory and develop the skills to perform certain procedures.

“Because we are delivering curriculum with a blended approach, which includes real-time content delivery and asynchronous programs, it’s really helping us become adaptive to use multiple types of technologies,” Dr. Corrigan said.

Hands-On Learning

One of the biggest challenges SVM faces is how to teach and train students hands-on clinical skills virtually. However, it has turned this challenge into some early successes.

Last term, students sent videos of themselves completing a skill, such as suturing, to faculty, who would then play each recording back during a live interactive session so that all students can watch their peers learning the same skills simultaneously. Students were then graded on how well they were able to master the skill, and received peer reviews from other students, helping all to address common mistakes.

“The key here is they gained confidence,” Dr. Corrigan said. “If we can still give them that confidence, even if they are not doing the skill directly in front of us, it will go a long way to helping them as future veterinarians.”

In addition, wetlabs allow students to attend a demonstration of a specific clinical skills performed by an SVM faculty member—this semester they will be done virtually.

“Even though students will not be able to use their own hands, the 3D demonstration will simulate as if they were really there,” Dr. Corrigan said. “They will be able to see a kidney in longitudinal and cross-section views. They will be able to see my hand moving on the screen. It’s another example of how we’re teaching hands-on clinical skills through online simulations.”

Some skills still must be taught in person, and SVM also developed a large group of private practitioners—more than 100 practices and counting across North America—willing to be clinical mentors for sixth-term students. In this scenario, students are paired with local veterinarians practitioners, including some SGU alumni, to establish professional relationships and receive instructional training.

Staying Connected in a Virtual World

Not lost in all the academia was the need for the interaction aspect of learning, especially since students can’t be together on campus.

“I think it’s especially important to provide the incoming Term 1 students with that inclusive aspect as they are not able to be in Grenada, and they don’t get to facilitate vital in-person relationships with their professors and peers,” Ms. Kirk said.

Dr. Corrigan acknowledged that what students want most within the distance learning platform is to feel connected—to other students, to faculty, and to the school overall. On the first day of classes, 90 students showed up for office hours.

“They were not there for office hours,” Dr. Corrigan said. “They were there looking for a way to connect with the SGU family.”

This term, with the help and guidance of faculty advisors, vet-centered student clubs will be looking at further ways to offer students a sense of community by hosting virtual events. In addition, SVM is also looking to put together virtual mentoring relationships between lower- and upper-class students.

“We want students to stay engaged and stay in communication with us, because we’re here for them, even though we are not physically together,” Dr. Corrigan said.

— Laurie Chartorynsky

Advocating for Vet Students: Spotlight on the SGA’s SVM Affairs Group

Jennifer Kirk (left), DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s president of SVM Affairs, and Maria Coppola (right), DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s vice president of SVM Affairs, shared the importance of the group’s mission and how students can get involved.

The School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) Affairs group is a part of the St. George’s University Student Government Association (SGA), working primarily to address student issues and concerns related to the School of Veterinary Medicine.

SGU News spoke with Jennifer Kirk, DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s president of SVM Affairs, and Maria Coppola, DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s vice president of SVM Affairs, who shared the importance of the group’s mission, how it was crucial in helping to formulate SVM’s distance learning curriculum, and how students can get involved.

SGU: How do you advocate for SVM students at SGU?

Jennifer Kirk: We have four main priorities that we focus on. They include:

  • Communications between the SGA SVM representatives and the student body;
  • Facilitating effective communication between students and professors;
  • Advocating for the SVM student organizations and clubs; and
  • Addressing both nonacademic and academic concerns with the SVM and University leadership teams.

SGU: SVM Affairs was very involved in helping vet students navigate the early days of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Can you share some key instances where you were able to help students in Grenada?

JK: We played a significant role in assisting students during the evacuation. We made sure to work with the administration to figure out logistics to allow all pets to evacuate with their owner and helped coordinate that. We advocated for the students that still had mid-term exams to take during the evacuation. We had multiple SVM students at the airport and at Modica Hall making sure that the process to get everyone home safely went smoothly.

We also made sure to constantly update students via the VetMed and SGA Facebook pages.

SGU: As the School of Veterinary Medicine ramped up its distance learning program, how did SVM Affairs contribute to the process?

JK: We were in many meetings during the evacuation to ease the transition from in-person to online learning. We gathered feedback for the SVM crisis team that was crucial in implementing new protocols for the best online learning experience.

One such concern we had was making sure students had access to all the materials needed. We know that not everyone has a conducive workspace in their home, especially with WiFi issues. We advocated for these students and, as a result, SVM made recordings downloadable so that students can stay on track despite these problems.

We continue to communicate regularly with our Executive Board, faculty advisor, Dr. Arend Werners, as well as University and SVM leadership.

SGU: What is the most important aspect that students are looking for as part of distance learning education?

JK: Students really need the interaction aspect of learning. I think it’s especially important to provide the incoming Term 1 students with that inclusive aspect as they are not able to be in Grenada, and they don’t get to facilitate vital in-person relationships with their professors and peers.

SGU: Can you name some initiatives that the group will be working on for students this term?

JK: I would say mental health. As taboo as it is to talk about it in society, I do think it is imperative—especially now that we are all isolated at home—to talk openly about how we are dealing with the pandemic. The SGA will be hosting a virtual movie night on September 11 to talk about burnout in the medical and veterinary fields, but I would like to include more mental health awareness initiatives for SVM students this semester.

Maria Coppola: My answer would be increased communications to vet students, which is even more important now that we’re not all together. It’s important that we check in with students and that students check in with us. We try to make ourselves available as often as possible throughout the day, whether that be on Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp, etc. You name it, we are most likely available on it!

SGU: How can other students get involved?

MC: At the beginning of every semester, we send out a call for representatives. Students can easily join by filling out the application and sending in a headshot. If there are numerous applicants, we then hold an election and each term will vote for who they would like to represent their class.

In addition, the Student Government Association has launched its own website and it has a public Facebook page. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at any time! We are ready and willing to help.

Students are welcome to contact Jennifer Kirk at jkirk@sgu.edu or Maria Coppola at mcoppola@sgu.edu.

 

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

 

Highlighting the Student National Medical Association: A Conversation with Leadership of the SGU Chapter

SNMA President Tom Diamond II, and Vice President, Jhanae O'Guin

The Student National Medical Association (SNMA) is a national association that is committed to supporting current and future underrepresented minority medical students by addressing the needs of underserved communities, and increasing the number of “clinically excellent, culturally-competent, and socially-conscious physicians.” SNMA chapters are based at allopathic and osteopathic medical schools throughout the US, with programs designed to serve the health needs of underserved communities and communities of color.

In addition, SNMA is dedicated both to ensuring that medical education and services are culturally sensitive to the needs of diverse populations and to increasing the number of African American, Latino, and other students of color entering and completing medical school. The SGU chapter of the SNMA has nearly 200 members and implements programs that benefit underserved communities in Grenada.

We spoke with SGU Chapter President Tom Diamond II, a soon-to-be Term 5 student and aspiring cardiologist, and Vice President Jhanae O’Guin, a Term 3 student and aspiring OB/GYN, who shared their perspectives on the importance of the organization’s mission, not just now but year-round, and how students can get involved.

What is the overall mission for the Student National Medical Association?

TD: Our mission is to simply diversify the face of medicine, both at the physician level by increasing the number of minority physicians and physicians of color, and also at a socioeconomic level, where physicians use their skills to treat people in low-income and underserved areas—areas that are so-called medical deserts.

 

What does the organization do to champion equality in healthcare career throughout the year?

JO: We do a lot of mentoring. It can be a very hard road as a physician, period, but as a minority physician, it can be even harder. So being able to reach out to someone who took that class or that session before you, who can give you valuable advice that you can trust, who is walking a similar pathway to you, is a big part of what we do. We are hoping to ramp up our mentoring program even more this semester than ever. We think it’s very important because, as Tom was saying, these physicians are going to go into these medical deserts and it’s critical that we talk about the importance of how patients see their doctors—if they feel like they can identify with them, they are more likely to have better health.

Can you share examples of the activities that the SGU chapter has done on the island to enhance medical services to underserved communities?

JO: We partner with local Grenadian schools to mentor local children and we call it “mini med school.” The goal of that activity is to get local Grenadians interested in medicine. And we also know that in general, if we can bolster these programs and also create these pathways for these students, that the healthcare system in Grenada could stand to be improved that way.

Another program that we do is we raise money to support JJ Robinson Trust scholarships for children. That’s important because we know, in general, educational outcomes are associated with good health outcomes. We typically do a game night to raise the money for a scholarship program.

Lastly, and probably most notably, is our diabetes clinic. I had the pleasure of being the diabetes clinic coordinator this past semester. This particular program is so important because it targets diseases that are impacting minorities at a disparaging rate. So, during these clinics we do high blood pressure monitoring; diabetes monitoring; we check vision deficits; and we counsel on nutrition and good overall health. And we give Grenadians an opportunity to also consult with SGU-trained physicians, who we partner with to do this event. Every year, we go to a different parish and it gives Grenadians the opportunity to interact with us, for us to get some hands-on experience, and of course help the community.

Why is it important to showcase diversity within the medical profession?

TD: In medicine, one of the things we learn about is contributing factors and its impact on health prognosis. A contributing factor to a diagnosis may be miscommunication. If a person cannot relate to you or there’s any type of communication barrier that impacts the prognosis, that impacts the probability of a healthier, better outcome. If you don’t understand what a patient’s lifestyle is, if you are not able to communicate with them about their eating habits, where they live, the environmental stressors that they face, you’re going to miss how to assess and how to interact with that patient. That’s why it’s so important to diversify the face of medicine. We need people who understand medicine and who will be able to relate to patients.

How do you feel that the campus’ overall diversity has contributed to your academic experience? How do you think it will help you in your eventual careers?

TD: SGU has physicians and facilitators from all over the world. I’m going to quote one of my favorite professors, Dr. Kesava Mandalaneni who said that “Accent is the paint brush of life. And that gives us the color to how we live.” You become used to speaking with patients who may not sound like you, who may not pronounce the same words the way you do, who may not have the same cultural background as you, but on a daily basis, we meet people from different countries and you learn to communicate with them.

JO: I agree 100 percent with that. And it does make you more attentive to people when they’re speaking, because you want to try to do your best to catch what they’re saying. And I think it’s important as a doctor to be a good listener. So being able to de-code what someone’s saying is an essential tool as a great physician.

I would also say that being at SGU, the students are coming from many backgrounds, countries, and cultures. And I think that has been enriching experience. And while there are more initiatives for diversity that can be implemented, including increased workshops, possibly a selective on health disparities affecting communities of color, and inclusion of minority students on decision-making boards, I believe that this experience at SGU in particular will contribute meaningfully to a career as a future physician because we’re interacting with different cultures already and getting some basis for what their cultural norms are.

This also highlights the meaningfulness of SNMA at SGU because we are an organization that is trying to encourage different cultures to come together. And I always like to use the example that when I came to SGU and I joined SNMA, that’s where I met Tom. Tom saw me studying in Taylor Hall and offered to help on me on a topic I was studying. This interaction empowered me to forge a relationship with him and ask him to be my mentor. And now he is my mentor. Without the SNMA, I probably would not have had that opportunity.

In what ways have the recent events in the US reinvigorated you on your path to becoming a physician?

TD: That’s probably the biggest question of today for the answer is multi-faceted. Many people like me set out as first-generation physicians of color, first-generation physicians of our family, and first-generation physicians in our communities. It’s not that blacks and African Americans don’t want to get into medicine—there is some kind of invisible barrier that stopped them from being able to move in.

There are four historically black colleges or university medical schools in the United States…for a population of people that represent 13 to 16 percent of the nation. So, there is no equality at the level of even physician training. And then you look at what’s happening in the world right now. It’s just a reminder that racism is still present. Unfortunately, it’s ingrained into American society in some ways to the degree that people don’t even understand how their actions affect others, because they’re so used to doing it.

One of the things that’s been damaging to myself and students all across the country and, and especially SNMA nationwide—we have medical students right now who are having to focus on rigorous curriculums while being online, and on top of all that they’re experiencing trauma (from the recent news of George Floyd’s death). Without letting it bog you down or mentally deter you; it should light a fire under you and invigorate you to understand that I have a part to play in eradicating racism. We all do. But more specifically, I have a part to play in eradicating racism and health disparity for people of minorities and for everybody by giving people healthier lives, by standing up to institutions that deny people access from basic need of health. And so as hard as it is, especially at moments like this to focus, it’s your responsibility, it’s your burden. You feel a charge to produce these outcomes for yourself in order to be able to impact the community at large.

JO: I’ll just follow up and say, maybe you’re not able to be on the front lines, doing your part in that way, but in a lot of ways, being in medical school as an African American, that is doing your part, because you want to be in a position where you can pour back into your community. So if anything, when it’s hard and you’re taking that class or you’re getting ready for that test, and you’re seeing this happening, you can’t give up, not only in yourself, but because you have people counting on you to be the change that people are so desperately on the front lines fighting for.

What inspired you to become a doctor? What are your future career plans?

TD: I’m from Jacksonville, FL. I am a graduate of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. One of the things that inspired me to become a physician is that, in the area of the city where I grew up, there is a major health disparity as far as simply just it’s a medical desert. There is one hospital that sits centrally located that is supposed to service the entire north side. You have quarter of a million people who live in this area that have one hospital.

The second reason is just the lack of representation that I saw growing up. And I knew that this is an area of concern. African Americans lead nationwide in cardiac disease, hypertension, diabetes—those kinds of things. I have a passion for helping people. And so, it led me here, and thank God it led me to SGU because the school is allowing me to chase my dreams. I want to go into internal medicine and eventually enter a fellowship in cardiology.

JO: When I was in kindergarten, I got this Mason jar that my teacher said I shouldn’t open until I graduate. Well, graduation came and went, I had already completed a semester of undergraduate college, I was already involved in a medical academy, and I finally opened it and found this piece of paper. My teacher asked me what I wanted to be—I told her I wanted to be a doctor. It even surprised me because I don’t remember wanting to be a doctor. I thought I wanted to be a teacher before, but apparently when I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a doctor. So, this pathway is in a lot of ways for me a self-fulfilling prophecy derived as a kindergartener.

I am from Houston, TX. I went to Prairie View A&M University. And then after that, I continued my education to get my master’s degree in public health in health promotion and health education with a concentration in maternal and child health, bolstering my passion for women’s health. There are just a lot of disparities, including infant mortality and low birth-weight babies that are affecting people of color and just bad maternal outcomes for women of color. So, a lot of that has been a catalyst for me wanting to go into obstetrics and gynecology. If not that, I know that I want to work in primary care. I can impact the most people in helping with these chronic diseases and ailments that are impacting my community. And so, all of that’s very important to me because I believe that women’s health is the foundation of good family health. Because when we have healthy mothers, we have healthy children and healthy spouses.

The SGU chapter of the SNMA is actively welcoming new members for the August semester and will be transitioning many of their programs to a virtual setting. Students who are interested in joining are welcome to reach out to the organization via its Facebook and Instagram pages.

–Laurie Chartorynsky