O’Connor Hospital DME Shares Crucial Lessons Medical Students Can Learn During Clinicals


Dr. Sharad Dass, a critical care pulmonologist and the director of medical education at O’Connor Hospital.

Dr. Sharad Dass, a critical care pulmonologist and the director of medical education at O’Connor Hospital, shares the crucial lessons that medical students should take away from their clinical rotations.

What should medical students expect to learn during their clinical rotations? Dr. Sharad Dass, a critical care pulmonologist and the director of medical education at O’Connor Hospital, has a few ideas.

The most important part of their learnings: learning to communicate and listening to the patient.

“It’s imperative that students learn to listen to the patient, understand where they’re coming from, and also use other resources [to get answers] because patients may not be able to express themselves clearly or understand what’s happening within their body in terms of their symptoms,” Dr. Dass said. “Students should also learn to communicate with patients in a language that is more familiar and understandable to the patients. We often use large medical terms and describe our medical thought process, which is often not easily understood.”

Another crucial part of their time in clinical rotations is learning how to conduct themselves in a professional and respectful manner with the patients and other staff members in the hospital, Dr. Dass emphasized,

O’Connor Hospital, located in San Jose, CA, is a 358-bed acute care facility owned by the County of Santa Clara. According to its website, it offers a full range of inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical, and specialty programs to the more than 1 million residents of San Jose.

Dr. Dass moved into the hospital’s DME position in mid-2021 after previously being an internal medicine clerkship director there. He was instrumental in helping the hospital expand its medical education program for students.

Read more about Dr. Dass’ advice for clinical students:

SGU: What are the key lessons students should expect to learn during the clinical portion of their training?

Dr. Dass: As instructors, our goal is to bridge the gap for students between book knowledge and applying the knowledge in a practical sense to patients in a hospital setting. Every patient is different, and each may have a different way of explaining themselves that may not come across how students learned it in a book. We try to help students develop their approach to patients which will hopefully allow them to hone in on the diagnosis.

To reiterate, students have to listen and communicate with their patient. It takes practice.

SGU: What clinical rotations can students participate in at O’Connor?

Dr. Dass: The hospital offers internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, and OB/GYN core rotations as well as specific electives within these fields. For example, pulmonary & critical care, GI, emergency medicine, dermatology, and different surgical subspecialties such as vascular surgery and cardiothoracic surgery.

SGU: What residency programs are offered through the hospital?

Dr. Dass: The hospital has a family medicine residency program—that is combined program with Stanford University. They also have a sports medicine fellowship.

SGU: How is the hospital unique?

Dr. Dass: One of the things that I like about this hospital is that the doctors and preceptors are private practitioners. Many students finishing up their residency often go to big group practices. They don’t start up their own private practice because they have no idea how to, and they don’t know what it’s about. Being in our program, they may be able to appreciate the benefits of being their own private practitioner.

Additionally, despite being owned by the county, we’re a community-based hospital. So, it still has that small-town feeling where everybody knows everybody.

SGU: You are a trained critical care pulmonologist, what do you love about the specialty?

Dr. Dass: I’ve found that understanding pulmonary and critical care medicine made sense to me, working with the ventilators and in the intensive care units with patients with vascular issues—to me, I just enjoyed learning this field and found it challenging. I liked the physics and mechanics of the field. That’s a large part of understanding pulmonary function testing. I actually have my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Irvine.

In critical care, you kind of have to be the jack of all trades. You have to understand what can cause a critical situation. It could be different parts of the body, not just the lungs. It could be the heart. It could be the endocrine system. It could be the GI system. It could be anything or remain unknown. So, you have to be able to care for patients that may have developed a critical/life-threatening illness from any organ system in the body.  It can be stressful, but I like the level of energy in the intensive care.

SGU: What made you venture into academic medicine?

Dr. Dass: I’ve always been involved in teaching. Teaching helps me grow my own knowledge base and learn new concepts. I like the collegiality of being able to bounce ideas off of each other, ask questions, and so forth. I wanted to bring that back to our hospital with students.

One of my favorite meetings is where I speak with a student committee. The monthly meeting allows me and other administrators to go over any student concerns or suggestions on how to improve on the program. I appreciate the students’ involvement to improve their learning experience.

SGU: What do you think is the most important thing for physicians to remember when public health issues, such as COVID, arise?

Dr. Dass: My first piece of advice is don’t jump on any bandwagons. As physicians our first goal is to do no harm—and if one doesn’t fully understand an unproven treatment and begins to implement such then that can potentially be going against what we should be doing.

SGU: Any last words of advice for clinical students?

Dr. Dass: Concentrate on doing well on your shelf exams and the USMLE. That plays a big role in your ability to get into a residency, especially for those who know they have difficulty with test performance. Seek help because SGU offers lots of assistance for those students who need it for test-taking or clinical skill development. Getting good letters of recommendation is very important as well.  Most importantly, enjoy what you are doing and you will do better.


-Laurie Chartorynsky

Related Reading

970 St. George’s University Students and Graduates Secure US Residencies in 2023 Match

Match Day 2023 - 970n US residencies and counting

St. George’s University School of Medicine announced today that 970 of its students and graduates secured residencies around the United States in this year’s match cycle.

“Match Day is a pivotal moment in a doctor’s career,” said Dr. Marios Loukas, Dean of the St. George’s University School of Medicine. “On behalf of the entire St. George’s University community, I congratulate this remarkable class of medical students.”

This year, students and graduates matched into residences in 21 specialties across 42 states and the District of Columbia. More students and graduates will find out where they will be doing residency training in the days and weeks to come.



St. George’s graduates will begin residency programs in several highly competitive specialties, ranging from surgery and neurology to emergency medicine and pediatrics. Many will be returning to their home states to begin their careers in medicine.

This new group of doctors will play a crucial role in addressing America’s growing physician shortage. St. George’s is the largest provider of doctors to the U.S. healthcare system and the number-one provider of primary care doctors into the United States annually. Three-quarters of St. George’s graduates enter primary care specialties, and a significant number of SGU alumni work in medically underserved areas.

“St. George’s University graduates have been meeting the medical needs of communities across the United States for decades,” Dr. Loukas said. “We look forward to seeing all the great things that this newest class of St. George’s graduates will accomplish.”



Related Reading

Dreams come true on Match Day 2023

On Match Day 2023, hundreds of St. George’s University School of Medicine students and graduates found out where they will head for residency training this summer.

SGU students and graduates matched into more than 970 first-year US residency positions across more than 20 specialties including neurology, urology, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, surgery, and more. The numbers are expected to increase in the coming weeks.



Match Day is a milestone moment in students’ medical education as they learn where their hard work and determination will take them next in their career. Students and graduates will now enjoy the fruits of their labor as the next chapter of their medical training begins—this time with ‘MD’ beside their name.

SGU News spoke with several recently matched students about what it felt like to discover that all their hard work led to a dream come true.

David Townsend

Matched: University of North Dakota at Sanford Hospital

Specialty: Internal medicine

Hometown: Alexandria, MN

“I am excited to grow my career and start on my path to cardiology/electrophysiology!  My children are also very excited to be close to their cousins.”

Jaclynn Do

Matched: Zucker School of Medicine / Northwell South Shore University Hospital

Specialty: Preliminary surgery

Hometown: Costa Mesa, CA

“It still feels unreal that I matched because it has been an emotional rollercoaster throughout this journey, but I can’t help but smile when I think about it. I am most grateful for my friends, family, and mentors who have supported me on this journey and continue to support me as a physician.”

John Crane

Matched: Mount Sinai Elmhurst

Specialty: Psychiatry

Hometown: Boston, MA

“Seeing the words, ‘Congratulations, you have matched!’ was one of the biggest moments of my life. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I did it. I felt happy, relieved, and validated for my hard work and perseverance. I called my immediate family with tears of joy in my eyes. I could not have matched without the support of my family and friends.

Match Day has been an unforgettable day. I am truly humbled and honored to match into my number one residency program. As a psychiatrist, I look forward to helping patients improve their mental health. I am eager to work with underserved and disenfranchised populations. Mount Sinai Elmhurst will teach me to provide excellent psychiatric care.

SGU provided me with the opportunity to pursue my dreams. Today, my dreams became a reality.”

Rachel Castillo

Matched: University of Maryland Medical Center

Specialty: Pediatrics

Hometown: Bowie, MD

“For Match Day, I decided to keep things ‘low-key’ and open the email with just my parents. They have been my biggest cheerleaders and the best support system I could ever hope for or pray for. I was shocked more than anything else when I saw the email. It’s a program I’ve admired for several years, and to experience the joy and reality of matching there was overwhelming.

As I look towards residency, I’m most grateful to be back in Baltimore, the city that I love and spent time in as a child and graduate student. I’m honored to be able to care for children in Baltimore and the surrounding area and truly be their biggest champion and advocate.”

Nanditha Guruvaiah Sridhara

Matched: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

Specialty: Diagnostic radiology

Hometown: Nassau, The Bahamas

“Match Day was truly one of the happiest moments of my life! It felt like a great weight was lifted off my shoulders because everything I had worked for had culminated to this one important email.

I’m so grateful to my family and friends for supporting me on this long but fruitful journey. Most importantly, I’m thankful for the mentors I gained through SGU. They gave me invaluable advice and encouraged me to continue to strive during tough times.

I’m very excited to start this next phase of my journey. I’m especially looking forward to learning from the faculty at this renowned program. Being in a field such as radiology gives me endless opportunities for innovative research and global health outreach—both of which I’m interested in doing during my residency. I also hope to encourage and support more women who are aiming to pursue the more competitive and male-dominated fields.”

Shedane Latty

Matched: New York Medical College-Metropolitan/Harlem

Specialty: Emergency medicine

Hometown: Jamaica

“I am so excited that I matched my first-choice program for emergency medicine! I cannot wait to get started.

Thank you to SGU for giving me an opportunity to materialize a childhood dream. Thank you for the humanitarian scholarship and thank you to the people of Grenada for welcoming me with open arms. It will forever be a second home.”

Joshua Fernandez

Matched: University of California Riverside Community Hospital

Specialty: Neurology

Hometown: Westchester, CA

“When I opened my email, I couldn’t believe I matched at a UC program! I entered a field that is severely lacking Latino doctors, and now I have an opportunity to give back to my community. I was over the moon with all these emotions after four years of hard work. It was all worth it. I am so grateful that I have an opportunity to represent SGU and all the international medical graduates that will follow me because my journey is proof that anything is possible.”

—Sarah Stoss and Laurie Chartorynsky

Related Reading

37 SVM Students Secure Competitive Internship and Residency Positions through 2023 VIRMP Match

Vet small animal clinic with cat

Relief and excitement echoed across St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine as 37 students and graduates secured competitive internship and residency positions within the 2023 Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program (VIRMP).  

SGU-trained veterinarians achieved a match rate of 69.8 percent, the highest among Caribbean veterinary schools. This rate compares favorably to the 53.2 percent match rate for all schools—including those in the US—according to data released by the VIRMP, a program sponsored by the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians (AAVC).

Beginning in June, the veterinarians will begin their specialized training in areas such as small animal internal medicine, emergency and critical care, surgery, cardiology, neurology, and diagnostic imaging.

These positions are situated at prestigious institutions, including Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and others within the SVM’s network of clinical affiliates as well as hospitals across the US and Canada.

“While veterinary school is challenging on all levels as students strive to earn their DVM, the effects of the pandemic over the last few years added another layer of challenges to these students, and we are so proud of their ability to shine even in the face of adversity,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. “Matching in the VIRMP is a true testament to their dedication to the veterinary profession and the care of animals. I have no doubt they will continue to learn and grow as professionals and I wish them the best of luck in their postgraduate training.”

Students shared their reactions to learning they matched and their advice for future veterinarians.

Ida Yate-Lavery, DVM ' 23, matched in the VIRMP

Ida Yates-Lavery, DVM ’23
Hometown: Renfrew, Ontario
Matched: Cornell University
Specialty: Small animal internal medicine rotating internship

Match Day reaction: I am so excited and honored to have matched to my top choice internship.

Career plans: I plan on applying to small animal internal medicine residencies next year. This internship will give me valuable experience in small animal internal medicine that will prepare me for a residency.

Advice for students: Don’t stress too much about the process.

Matthew Pickens, DVM '23, matched in the 2023 VIRMP.

Matthew Pickens, MSc, DVM ’23
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI

University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine
Specialty: Small animal rotating internship

Match Day reaction: Excited and relieved that I get to continue working with amazing clinicians at the University of Tennessee.

Career plans: I would like to specialize in zoo medicine. After I complete the small animal rotating internship, I plan on applying for a zoo/exotic/aquatic specialty internship. Afterwards, I will apply for a residency in zoo medicine. My overall interests are marine mammal and aquatic medicine and I would like to eventually include research on sea turtle fibro papillomatosis.

Advice for students: The Match is very competitive, especially if the program you are applying to has only one spot available. My advice is to make as many connections as possible. Having simple conversations with people in your field and establishing yourself can take you a long way. Knowing people in the field could help mentor you through the process and help point you in the direction to your next opportunity.

SVM student Shelby Morales, DVM '23, matched in the 2023 VIRMP.

Shelby Morales, DVM ’23
Hometown: Sugarland, TX
Arizona Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Center
Specialty: Small animal rotating internship with emphasis in emergency and critical care

Match Day reaction: It honestly took a minute to set in. I opened it by myself in my room. When it finally hit me, I was so excited and  immediately called those close to me to let them know.

Career plans: I love emergency medicine and plan to pursue a career in it after completing my internship. The internship I selected gives me a lot of exposure to emergency situations and surgery while supervised to add that extra support. The internship gives me the chance to build a stronger foundation of skills and knowledge before I go off on my own as a doctor.

Advice for students: Actively engage in your rotations during clinical year. Build relationships with your doctors and absorb as much from them as you can. Finding support that helps you navigate the process, and potentially writes you a letter of recommendation will help with the anxiety and the ease of the process.

SVM student Adriana Kalaska, DVM '23, matched in the 2023 VIRMP

Adriana Kalaska, DVM ’23
Hometown: Montreal, Canada
Matched: VCA Canada—Mississauga Oakville Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital
Specialty: Small animal rotating internship

Match Day reaction: I was thrilled and relieved to hear that I had matched at my top ranked hospital. The program is one that I’m excited about, and I will also be much closer to home than I have been for a few years. It was great to finally have an answer on where I would be working for at least the next year.

Career plans: I plan on becoming a board-certified small animal surgeon. This small animal rotating internship is the first step in a multi-step process to accomplish this! Following this year, I will apply for a specialty surgical internship then a residency.

Advice for students: Building relationships with your clinical rotation clinicians is essential. Try to repeat rotations that are specific to your interests so that you can ask for a great reference. The VIRMP standardized letters are heavily clinical skills- and client communication-based, which makes our clinical instructors important for a successful match!

SVM student Devon Cruz-Gordillo matched in the 2023 VIRMP.

Devon Cruz-Gordillo, DVM ’23
Hometown: Miami, FL
Matched: Angell Animal Medical Center—Boston

Specialty: Small animal rotating internship

Match Day reaction: I was honestly shocked. I know Angell is one of the most renowned programs in the country and very competitive so when I learned I was chosen for a spot in their small animal rotating internship program—I was ecstatic!

Career plans: I enjoy practicing specialty medicine and receiving cases that are normally referred for tertiary care and am very interested in emergency and critical care medicine as well as internal medicine. I plan to let my internship year guide me.

At Angell, I’ll be mentored by reputable clinicians in their respective specialty fields and bank that knowledge to be used in my future practice of medicine. I also know that being an intern in this program will make me a great clinician, as it is believed that one year in this program is equivalent to three to five years of general practice. Moreover, this internship allows me to be the primary doctor and make my own treatment decisions. I believe doing this is how I will determine which specialty I want to continue in or to continue onto general practice.

Advice to students: Don’t stop yourself from applying if you think you are not as competitive compared to your classmates. If you really want it, go for it. It is important to know your medicine, perform well in clinics, and show that you have a great attitude no matter what. Doing that will take you far.


– Laurie Chartorynsky



Related Reading


World Kidney Day: Transplant surgeon shares keys to kidney health

Kidney disease progresses silently; in fact, according to the World Kidney Day organization, a person can lose up to 90 percent of their kidney function before experiencing symptoms, and eight to 10 percent of the adult population suffers from some form of kidney damage.

World Kidney Day’s goal is to raise awareness of the importance of our kidneys. This year, the annual campaign takes place on March 9, and the theme is “Kidney Health for All—Preparing for the unexpected, supporting the vulnerable.”

St. George’s University School of Medicine alum Sujit Vijay Sakpal, MD ’05, is a multi-organ abdominal transplant surgeon, intensivist, and kidney and pancreas transplantation director at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in South Dakota. As a physician who works directly with vulnerable populations impacted by issues such as kidney disease, he shared his thoughts on World Kidney Day and why he chose to focus his career on caring for those with end-stage organ failure.

“Everyone should be aware of kidney disease, especially those with risk factors for it such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, or a family history of kidney disease,” said Dr. Sakpal. “Knowing one is at risk is the first step towards a healthier life.”

For those with high-risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, or obesity, Dr. Sakpal recommends getting kidney function checked regularly. In addition, to help prevent kidney disease, there are a few daily choices we can all make.

“Keep fit, be active, eat a healthy diet, and stay hydrated. It’s also important to stay mindful of your blood sugar and blood pressure and not smoke or take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pills regularly,” he said.

Although these seem like small changes, they can significantly impact kidney health. Progressive chronic kidney disease could possibly become end-stage and require dialysis. At this point, Dr. Sakpal would recommend seeking early advice and referral for kidney transplantation, which can potentially restore the quality and longevity of the life of those affected. That’s where Dr. Sakpal’s expertise and care would come in.

A profoundly challenging and rewarding career path

“I always wanted to be a surgeon, but a cardiothoracic one initially,” said Dr. Sakpal when asked how he decided on a career in transplant surgery. “That changed in my surgical residency at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey, one of the busiest and top-ranked kidney-pancreas transplantation centers in the US.”

During his surgical residency, Dr. Sakpal learned that solid-organ transplantation goes beyond the craft and skill of surgery. It involves staying up to date with innovations in medicine, immunology, and pharmacotherapy.

“Successful organ transplantation care of complex patients requires a multidisciplinary team effort,” added Dr. Sakpal. “All of it piqued my interest. Exceptional mentorship, both at Barnabas and then at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago during my fellowship in abdominal transplant, helped sculpt and build my professional career.”

The complexity involved in transplant surgery, however, comes with challenges. But those challenges make Dr. Sakpal even more grateful and motivated of how rewarding the work is.

“Reciprocity exists between challenges and rewards in all professions,” said Dr. Sakpal. “Challenges in my profession directly affect the lives of patients who need new organs to survive and live healthier and longer. As one can imagine, caring for patients with end-stage organ failure and optimizing their health to undergo lifesaving and life-changing organ transplantation is profoundly rewarding.”

The importance of a well-rounded medical education

For Dr. Sakpal to get to where he is today, he recognizes the significance of his education and how it prepared him for his future in medicine.

“Every educational experience has been enriching and formative toward building and establishing my professional career thus far,” Dr. Sakpal shared. “From my time as an international student from India at Idaho State University to SGU’s School of Medicine with its high caliber of medical education and opportune clinical rotations that led me to my advanced training as a surgical resident and a fellow, all of it was extraordinarily impactful.”

His education and career have taught Dr. Sakpal about the lifelong journey of practicing clinical medicine and surgery. His advice to students hoping to succeed on a similar path is simple.

“Never cease learning, be adaptive, seek mentorship, find and follow your passion, practice self-care, and most importantly, be humble with successes and never fear failure,” he said.

—Sarah Stoss

Related Reading

St. George’s University to Expand Relationship with NYC Health + Hospitals, Strengthening Pipeline of Future Doctors

St. George’s University announced today that it has renewed and expanded its relationship with NYC Health + Hospitals to bolster the pipeline of physicians from diverse backgrounds into New York’s healthcare system.

The agreement extends opportunities for SGU medical students to complete clinical rotations at affiliated NYC hospitals during their third and fourth years of study. Following completion of basic sciences studies at SGU, students will continue their medical training in clinical environments in the NYC Health + Hospitals system. Training and learning as members of care teams, these students gain first-hand experience in a range of medical fields while contributing directly to serving and caring for patients.

“We’ve partnered with NYC Health + Hospitals for nearly two decades to achieve our mutual goals of diversifying the nation’s healthcare workforce, bringing physicians to underserved areas, and opening doors for talented students from historically underrepresented backgrounds,” said Dr. Marios Loukas, Dean of St. George’s University School of Medicine. “We’re thrilled to continue that important work in the years ahead.”

“New York City is one of the most diverse places in the world. It’s critical that our healthcare providers reflect the patient population they serve,” said Machelle Allen, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals. “Expanding our relationship with St. George’s will help us achieve that goal — and improve patient access to culturally competent providers.”

The agreement also increases the number of full-tuition medical school scholarships awarded through the SGU School of Medicine CityDoctors scholarship program from 12 to 15 each year. It will also create 100 full scholarships for employees of NYC Health + Hospitals to pursue a Master of Public Health from SGU, a program accredited by the US Council on Education for Public Health.

“We’ve partnered with NYC Health + Hospitals for nearly two decades to achieve our mutual goals of diversifying the nation’s healthcare workforce, bringing physicians to underserved areas, and opening doors for talented students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.”

“Applying for the CityDoctors Scholarship is one of the best decisions I have ever made. The training I received at St. George’s University and NYC Health + Hospitals gave me the expertise necessary to attend to the mental health needs of our community, especially now as the demand for services is increasing” said NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi Attending Physician Eric Behar, MD. “I cannot fathom where my medical career would be without this program. CityDoctors and NYC Health + Hospitals taught me the importance of giving back to our community. I highly encourage all aspiring physicians to apply.”

To date, the CityDoctors program has made a career in medicine possible for more than 80, many of whom now practice in the communities in which they were raised. To qualify, applicants must be New York City residents or graduates of a New York City school. Applicants who are employed by, or have a parent or grandparent employed by NYC Health + Hospitals or the City of New York are also eligible. Scholarship recipients must commit to serving in the NYC Health + Hospitals system after residency, one year for each year of full tuition scholarship received. Interested students may access the application here.

SGU’s Master of Public Health program produces leading public health practitioners and researchers on a global scale. Fully accredited by the US Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), it is a one calendar year program in three academic terms, which can be completed online. Interested NYC Health + Hospitals’ staff may apply using SOPHAS, the centralized application service for Public Health programs.

Related Reading    

SVM grad reflects on Ukraine volunteer experience: “By helping people’s pets, we were helping the people”

Andrew Kushnir, DVM ’19, traveled to Ukraine and Poland to provide on-the-ground support for refugees and their pets—who have evacuated from the war-torn area. He shared lessons learned frome the nearly year-long experience.

Last we spoke with Andrew Kushnir, DVM ’19, in March 2022, he was at the Ukrainian-Poland border crossing in Medyka, Poland providing medical assistance to refugees’ pets. What was supposed to be a three-week trip ended with Dr. Kushnir staying for most of last year to work with animal rescue groups and zoos to help vulnerable animals affected by the Russian-Ukraine war.

During his time in Ukraine and Poland, Dr. Kushnir saw horrific destruction and pain but also experienced joy and gratitude through the eyes of the animals he cared for, including three African lion cubs. Dr. Kushnir, who returned to the United States in December, is still processing all that he saw and experienced while overseas but has had some time to reflect.

After some of the most “challenging, terrifying, and beautiful months of my life, I know now that I am forever changed as a result of my time there, and a part of me still hasn’t returned from overseas,” he said.

At the one-year mark of the war, Dr. Kushnir shared his experience, what he learned about himself as a veterinarian and caretaker, and his plans to continue supporting animals—and their owners—most in need.

St. George’s University: How long were you in Ukraine/Poland?

Dr. Kushnir: At the beginning of the war, I worked with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), helping refugees cross into Poland with their pets. We functioned out of a blue tent about approximately 100 feet from the official border crossing in a humanitarian village set up to help Ukrainians fleeing destruction. Many of the animals I saw were in rough shape when they crossed, and as a veterinarian, I was responsible for doing everything I could to help them. We knew that by helping people’s pets, we were helping the people. In total, I was at the border for three months, before venturing into Ukraine solo to see where I could help on the ground.

In the fall, I was volunteering at a veterinary hospital in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa—a beautiful city that typically is vibrant and full of people—but at the time, had lost about half of its one million residents. I had only intended to spend a few weeks there, but shortly into my stay, three African lion cubs were abandoned at the city train station, and I knew I had to get them out. It was another three months in Ukraine and then a month at the Poznan Zoo in Poland, caring for the African lion cubs and a black leopard cub, all rescued from Ukraine.

SGU: What other kinds of animals did you treat? What were some common forms of aid you provided to them?  

Dr. Kushnir: At the border, I saw mostly dogs and cats but occasionally exotic pets like snakes, birds, and even some turtles. The condition these animals arrived in at the border ranged from totally healthy to wounded, emaciated, dehydrated, and stressed. We had a tent set up with various meds sourced from home and the human medical tents at the humanitarian village. We were a lily pad for refugees as they mainly were headed on a path toward somewhere else in Europe.

When I was in Odesa, I saw many species of reptiles, birds, wild owls, raptors, and small mammals; and then, of course, the lion cubs. Toward the end of my time in Ukraine, I was in Kyiv at a rescue center, Wild Animal Rescue Ukraine, for large predators. The day we evacuated to Poland, we anesthetized and loaded up four adult African lions and an Asiatic black bear; the lion and leopard cubs were much easier to get into their crates for transport and didn’t require anesthesia.


SGU: What were some of the hardest things to see while over there?

Dr. Kushnir: After a while, the air raid sirens, the sounds and sights of artillery, and suicide drone attacks sadly become a normal part of daily life. It was startling when the attack was close by, of course, but then you continued on with your day. It’s life in war.

The most heartbreaking moments for me were probably those first couple of months at the Polish border, interacting with folks whose homes were destroyed days prior and who worried about their loved ones now under occupation. My father was a boy when his family fled Ukraine on foot during World War II, and I often saw him in every child who crossed, fleeing another war. I could not help but reflect on how recurring life can be.

SGU: Can you talk about a patient case that affected you? How so?

Dr. Kushnir: I remember it was a cold, wet October night. I had the three two-month-old cubs with me in Kyiv at this point, and most of our days were without power, water, and gas. We had a short window of available electricity, so I quickly boiled some water for their milk formula and went to feed them in their room. Despite having a bit of power available, it was common practice to have all lights turned off at night to make yourself less of a target from Russian suicide drones or aerial surveillance. I was feeding the cubs when I heard a sequence of loud thuds from what felt like right outside the window of the house. Initially, I thought it was from the horses in the stall outside kicking the walls, but then I saw flashes of light through the windows. I was in the vicinity of a combined missile and suicide drone attack that not only could I see, but I could feel. Once I registered what was happening, I remember looking down into the  cubs’ eyes as they suckled unbothered, not knowing what was happening around them, just happy and content that their bellies were filled. Their peace brought me peace. I like to think those cubs saved me as much as I saved them.

“Many of the animals I saw were in rough shape when they crossed, and as a veterinarian, I was responsible for doing everything I could to help them. We knew that by helping people’s pets, we were helping the people.”


SGU: Were there moments of joy?

Dr. Kushnir: It feels strange to admit, but there were many moments of immense joy during my time in Ukraine and Poland, despite the horrific scale of destruction that is still happening. At the border crossing, we helped about 1,800 animals, which means we helped at least that many people worried about their pets.

Performing an orthopedic procedure on a wild owl found by Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines, and then having those same soldiers release him back to the wild was a huge win. Finally, after months of careful planning and logistics, getting the lion cubs across the Atlantic Ocean and to one of the best sanctuaries in the world was a also monumental win.

SGU: What do you think you learned about yourself as a caretaker while volunteering in Ukraine?

Dr. Kushnir: I have always wanted to work with the most vulnerable animal populations, it’s what I find the most fulfilling and rewarding about this job. I’ve traveled to some very questionably-safe areas of the globe but have rarely ever felt unsafe—you can ask my psychiatrist father what that says about my personality!

SGU: Do you have any missions planned for the near future?

Dr. Kushnir: I’ll be returning to southern Ukraine in a few weeks to help set up a veterinary hospital at the only animal shelter in the city of Kherson; a city that was liberated by Ukraine a few months ago. It should be a quick mission, pending I don’t find anymore lions!

I am also in talks about joining a veterinary mission to Turkey, but we still have much to figure out. The geologic and geopolitical instability in southern Turkey and Syria presents specific challenges that need to be worked out thoroughly before an international mission is planned.

SGU: What is your advice for physicians and veterinarians who want to give back in a similar way? What should they be prepared for based on the lessons you’ve learned from your experiences?

Dr. Kushnir: Working in disaster events and humanitarian crises is not for everyone. You are exposed to some of the darkest elements of the human experience but also to some of the most uplifting as well. Crises happen in the world, whether from human conflict or from natural disasters, and it’s a certain type of medical professional who can function in that environment. Away from diagnostic machines, away from our preferred medicines, away from clean sterile operating tables, we have to work with what we’ve got and be very clever about it.


– Laurie Chartorynsky and Sarah Stoss




Related Reading

St. George’s University Announces Renewed Admissions Partnership with Springfield College

St. George’s University has renewed its partnership with Springfield College that will grant eligible Springfield students streamlined entry into the St. George’s School of Medicine or School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Since 2014, St. George’s has offered talented Springfield College students the opportunity to pursue a first-rate education and subsequent career in medicine,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, vice chancellor of St. George’s University. “We’re thrilled to continue that partnership educating the next generation of doctors and veterinarians so they can return to their communities and help address the critical need for medical and veterinary services nationwide.”

Ashley McNeill, PhD, director of the Springfield College pre-health professions advising, said the College is excited to continue to build partnerships like the one with St. George’s.

“Not only will this provide opportunities for our students to pursue excellent medical and veterinary training, but St. George’s University also offers unique opportunities for our students to continue to live our Humanics mission: educating the whole person in spirit, mind, and body for leadership in service to others” McNeill said. “St. George’s University’s focus on global health and care for underserved populations complements our students’ dedication to creating a better world for all.”

The partnership has established two “4+4” programs in which Springfield College students who complete four years of pre-medical or pre-veterinary coursework and meet all requirements for admission are fast-tracked for admission into four-year programs at the St. George’s School of Medicine or School of Veterinary Medicine. Candidates for the programs must maintain a strong undergraduate GPA and score competitively on relevant entrance exams.


“We’re thrilled to continue a partnership educating the next generation of doctors and veterinarians so they can return to their communities and help address the critical need for medical and veterinary services nationwide.”

Students who wish to take advantage of the combined degree programs must express interest upon applying to Springfield College. Those accepted into the MD program receive a $10,000 scholarship upon matriculating and are eligible for additional scholarships and grants from St. George’s.

Students accepted into the St. George’s School of Medicine may complete their first two years of study in Grenada, or spend their first year at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom and their second year in Grenada. They undertake their final two years of clinical rotations at hospitals affiliated with St. George’s in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Veterinary students complete three years of study in Grenada and their final clinical year at schools affiliated with St. George’s in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

Photos from InVeST 2023: Conference Goers Travel to Grenada to Learn Latest Trends in Veterinary Simulation


More than 120 veterinary experts traveled to St. George’s University’s True Blue campus earlier this month for the 7th International Veterinary Simulation in Teaching (InVeST) Conference, where they spent three days attending interactive sessions on the latest trends in veterinary simulation and teaching best practices.

InVest conference goers, which included veterinarians, InVeST members, representatives from educational institutions, researchers, students, and more than 50 faculty, staff, and alumni from SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine, among others, learned new trends and practices in the specialized field, and had the opportunity to network with peers while earning continuing education credits.

The use of simulation is a rapidly growing and exciting area of teaching practices within veterinary medicine. The educational practice uses technology—including virtual and augmented reality, 3D models, and more—to train veterinary technicians, nurses, and veterinarians on the healthcare needs of small companion animals and farm animals, reducing the need to use live animals.

The conference featured three keynote speakers:

  • Daniel Fletcher, DVM, PhD, faculty member of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who presented on the topic of immersive simulation in veterinary education;
  • Dave Killpack, BA-BPMI, founder of Illumination Studios, who presented on the topic of building connections across disciplines; and
  • Jenny Moffett, BVetMed, MSc, educationalist and faculty developer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Health Professions’ Education Centre, who presented on the topic of applications of simulations-based learning.

Additionally, on the final day of the conference, the winners of the best research poster and best oral presentation were announced:

  • Best poster presentation: Dr. Carolyn Kerr, a professor at the University of Guelph, Ontario Veterinary College, for her poster about the “Development of a Bovine Paravertebral Block Model.”
  • Best oral presentation: Dr. Francesca Ivaldi, associate professor in SVM’s Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, for her presentation about the “Development of a Comprehensive Simulated Patient Model for the Physical Examination of the Dog.”

Didn’t attend? Check out our top photos from the InVeST 2023 conference.

  • The view from the third floor of the Andrew J. Belford Centre provided a picturesque backdrop for those attending the InVeST 2023 Conference.

  • More than 120 participants from nine countries attended the conference, which explored the latest techniques and technology within the rapidly growing field of veterinary simulation.

  • Keynote speaker Dr. Daniel Fletcher, a faculty member at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, has been building simulators for veterinary education since 2009 and is the primary developer of Open VetSim, an open-source veterinary simulation platform.

  • Several sponsors were on hand, including Vetiqo, to showcase various simulation devices to conference goers. The models displayed are used in training veterinarians, farmers, and veterinary technicians as well as in experimental animal science.

  • Fabiola Casanova Crespo, SVM Term 5 student, attended InVeST 2023, as part of a group of students representing companies such as Banfield Pet Hospital that sponsored the event.

  • Dr. Francesca Ivaldi accepts her award for Best Oral Presentation.

  • Dr. Carolyn Kerr, a professor at the University of Guelph, Ontario Veterinary College, accepts her award for Best Poster Presentation.

  • Dr. Arend Werners, assistant dean of academics and chair of the SVM planning committee for InVeST 2023, thanked participants for attending the conference, along with fellow committee members, Drs. Annie Corrigan, Firdous Khan, and Heidi Janicke (left to right).


– Ray-Donna Peters

Related Reading    

Pursuing a Dual Degree in Veterinary Medicine: Grads Share Their Experiences

Dr. Adria Rodriguez, an associate professor of small animal medicine and surgery, and professional development in SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine, received her dual DVM and MSc from the University.

Many students at St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine take part in unique educational opportunities that can transform their careers. One SGU course of study is a veterinary dual-degree program, where students can combine earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree with one of several master’s degrees, including: a Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Science (MSc), or Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Whether it’s exploring the intersection of animal health and the human world, focusing on fundamental and applied research, or improving their business skills, each of these programs provides in-depth learning opportunities for aspiring veterinarians, according to Dr. David Marancik, associate dean of graduate studies for SVM.

“SGU’s graduate programs of study are diverse and can match the student’s career goals—allowing them to gain advanced knowledge and expertise within their field of choice,” Dr. Marancik said.

SGU News spoke to several dual degree veterinary alumni to find out how their degrees from the University have enhanced their career prospects and the advice they offer to students considering this educational route.

Why Pursue a Dual Degree

Sydney Friedman, DVM ’21/MPH ’21, an associate veterinarian at Hoboken Vets Animal Clinic in Hoboken, NJ, had always known she wanted to work with animals as a child. She initially pursued her DVM degree so that she could educate others and herself about disease transmission from zoonosis and preventative methods.

She then learned about the opportunity to obtain an MPH degree.

“By obtaining my MPH, I have gained additional knowledge of these diseases affecting humans, animals, and the environment, which has allowed me to expand my veterinary career in ways I didn’t think were possible,” Dr. Friedman said.

Sydney Friedman, DVM ’21/MPH ’21, an associate veterinarian at Hoboken Vets Animal Clinic in Hoboken, NJ, says her dual degree allows her to educating my clients on vaccines, disease processes, disease control, as well as disease spread.

In her current role, Dr. Friedman said she educates her clientele about the importance of preventative medicine.

“I am continuously educating my clients on vaccines, disease processes, disease control, as well as disease spread,” she said. “I am also accredited by the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] to write health certificates for international travel, allowing for additional conversations surrounding regional diseases. Having both a DVM and an MPH gives me the knowledge needed for these conversations.”



Heather Douglas, DVM ’06/MBA ’11, owner of Douglas Animal Hospital in Osseo, MN, said she decided to pursue her MBA degree several years after earning her license so that she could make the most appropriate financial decisions for her practice. Douglas Animal Hospital treats a wide variety of animals from cats and dogs to geckos, snakes, potbellied pigs, and hamsters. She is also heavily involved in community services—both in the states as well as Grenada. Dr. Douglas founded the non-profit veterinary service, GrenVet, which provides free care to animals in Grenada.

Heather Douglas, DVM ’06/MBA ’11, owner of Douglas Animal Hospital in Osseo, MN, said she decided to pursue her MBA degree several years after earning her license so that she could make the most appropriate financial decisions for her practice.

“I was very interested in learning more about business and how that would benefit my practice in the long run,” Dr. Douglas said. “My degree in animal science was a step to becoming a veterinarian, but the MBA was chosen to ensure my practice was successful long-term. A dual degree gives additional ways to expand your knowledge and perspective, which can promote your career.”

A Unique Advantage

Earning a dual degree can give veterinarians a leg up over peers, especially when applying for specialized career positions.

“Soon after I got my MBA, I was hired as a medical director for a 24/7 emergency and general practice veterinary hospital that had 12 doctors and over 30 support staff. I would never have been considered in the running for the medical director position if I didn’t have my MBA,” according to Jennifer Lopez, DVM ’11/MBA ’13.

“The MBA at SGU really helped me understand the financial and marketing management side of the business and how to think strategically,” she added. “For instance: how to afford that laparoscopy equipment that one doctor wanted; how to optimize the surgery schedule; or how can we best utilize our technicians, front desk staff, etc.”

Jennifer Lopez, DVM ’11/MBA ’13, a professional services veterinarian for Antech Diagnostics and Imaging, says her MBA continues to prove useful. She is also a certified compassion fatigue and clinical trauma professional.

Dr. Lopez has since moved on from her position as medical director and today serves as a professional services veterinarian for Antech Diagnostics and Imaging, where her MBA continues to prove useful.

At her job, Dr. Lopez focuses on helping business owners optimize the medical and business aspects of veterinary medicine. She is also a certified compassion fatigue and clinical trauma professional, helping trained veterinarians avoid or prevent compassion fatigue when treating patients.

“What I love most about veterinary medicine is that there are so many opportunities to not just be proponents of animals and their health, but the diversity in how to use our degree,” Dr. Lopez said. “You can be a part of the food industry, policymaking, or an entrepreneur owning a practice or several practices. Adding a second degree will help you to further your career in ways you may not have considered at first.”


“My dual degree was the start of the path that my professional career has taken, and I could not be happier.”


Joseph R. Frame, DVM ’21/MSc ’20 in Wildlife Conservation Medicine, agreed. Dr. Frame, a small animal emergency/critical care service veterinary specialty intern at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is currently in advanced training to become a board-certified specialist in emergency and critical care and, like Dr. Lopez, recognizes the positive impact his dual degree has on his career prospects. Eventually, he hopes to be able to teach and train the next generation of veterinarians.

He is passionate about zoo companion species, such as chinchillas, bearded dragons, and birds—all animals that come into the emergency room he works in.

Joseph R. Frame, DVM ’21/MSc ’20 in Wildlife Conservation Medicine is a small animal emergency/critical care service veterinary specialty intern at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital. He is currently in advanced training to become a board-certified specialist in emergency and critical care.

“My master’s degree gives me a unique advantage over other veterinarians because it allowed me to really hone my critical thinking skills,” said Dr. Frame. “I love veterinary medicine because it is very much like solving a puzzle and many times it takes a lot of critical thinking skills. I’m very glad that I pursued a master’s degree because I think I’m a better doctor for it.”

A Word of Advice

Earning a dual degree may not be easy; the curriculums are rigorous and challenging, and students need to be committed if they choose to go this route.

“When considering a dual degree, be clear on your why, and make sure that it aligns with where you see yourself professionally,” according to Adria Rodriguez, DVM ’08/MSc ’10, MS TCVM, ACC, an associate professor of small animal medicine and surgery, and professional development in SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “Do it because you want to do it, and be realistic with your time management skills and finances.”

For instance, will students be able to allot the time necessary to pursue both degrees and take care of your well-being while pursuing them?

“The dual degree curriculum is rigorous, and self-care is of utmost importance on your path to success,” Dr. Rodriguez emphasized.

Dr. Rodriguez, who supervises Term 5 SVM students in the Junior Surgery and Anesthesia Laboratory, said obtaining her MSc expanded her knowledge in research methods, statistics, and other fields, greatly helping her in her role as an educator, clinician, and researcher.

“My dual degree was the start of the path that my professional career has taken, and I could not be happier,” she said.

Echoed Dr. Frame: “It is a long road, and there will be some bumps along the way. If a dual degree is something you really want to do, pick yourself up and keep going. I missed several family events while in veterinary training, but it was all worth it after working with a real patient for the first time.”



– Ronke Idowu Reeves and Laurie Chartorynsky


Related Reading