More Than 100 Students Awarded Legacy of Excellence Scholarships in Fall 2019

Aerial images of Sir Eric Gairy Hall and Andrew J. Belford Centre.

This fall, St. George’s University welcomed another class of Legacy of Excellence scholarship winners, continuing its tradition of rewarding individuals who have demonstrated academic excellence throughout their studies.

This term’s 25 Chancellor’s Circle Legacy of Excellence (CCLOE) scholarship recipients hailed from 12 United States, the District of Columbia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and from such undergraduate institutions as Johns Hopkins University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Miami; and the University of Guelph. The CCLOE partial-tuition scholarship is awarded to incoming students who meet or exceed an overall undergraduate GPA of 3.7, a science GPA of 3.5, and an MCAT score of 506 or above.

Eighty-nine American and Canadian students were bestowed Legacy of Excellence (LOE) scholarships this term. The award is granted to students who exhibited the dedication necessary to achieve excellence in medicine, both in the classroom and the field.

“This class of Legacy of Excellence recipients is made up of highly accomplished students who have very bright futures in the field of medicine,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, SGU president. “We are thrilled to present them with this scholarship, which allows them to focus more on their studies and less on the financial element of their education.”

Since the University launched its Legacy of Excellence Scholarship program more than 10 years ago, CCLOE/LOE scholarships have been presented to hundreds of students who have gone on to successful careers as physicians. All told, approximately 28 percent of each entering class is granted an institutional scholarship, with awards based on academic excellence and/or need.

– Brett Mauser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Joseph Di Como, MD

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Ray-Donna Peters

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

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

Andrew Roorda, MD ' 04, gastroenterologist

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

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

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

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

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

EARLY BEGINNINGS

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

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

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

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

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

SECURING A RESIDENCY IN A COMPETITIVE SPECIALTY

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

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

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

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

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

– Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU APAMSA Student Organization Recognized at National Conference

St. George’s University’s chapter of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) was recently presented the Best Fundraiser Award at the 2019 APAMSA National Conference, held this year at the New York University School of Medicine. It marks the second consecutive year that the student organization has been recognized for its achievements in promoting diversity and awareness in Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) healthcare, having previously won the award last year for Best Chapter of the Year.

“As the first and only international medical school to be a part of APAMSA, we are extremely grateful for the recognition at the national level for two years in a row,” said Kathy Guo, a fourth-year medical student currently completing her clinical rotations at Brooklyn Hospital Center. She is also a former president of the SGU chapter of APAMSA. “While studying in Grenada, we became really involved with the Mt. Airy Young Readers Literacy Program. In addition to our volunteer work tutoring the Young Readers, we received this award for our continued fundraising efforts in which we donate all event proceeds toward this program.”

Themed “The Land of Opportunity: Breaking the Barriers in APIA Healthcare”, this year’s conference focused on the evolving landscape of healthcare and how representation of APIA physicians in leadership positions play an important role in this change. The three-day conference brought together pre-health and health students from across the country to share information on addressing and analyzing a variety of health topics in hopes of inspiring the next generation of leaders that advocate for APIA healthcare issues in their communities.

“We joined APAMSA’s national organization in the US because we wanted our chapter’s involvement to be part of something bigger,” said Ms. Guo. “Many of us who attended this year’s national conference were founding members of the SGU chapter—including our own Clara Sze, who was recently appointed to a national board position as the 2019-2020 Network Director.

“The conference provided invaluable interactions with other medical students from the US where we heard about their experience in med school and during their clinical years,” added Ms. Guo. “They told us about what kind of adversity they encountered, ways to counteract that, and how to help educate our colleagues when navigating our future medical careers.”

About APAMSA

The Asian Pacific American Medical Students Association (APAMSA) is a national organization of medical and pre-medical students committed to addressing the unique health challenges of Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) communities. APAMSA serves as a forum for student leaders to engage these health issues and develop initiatives and projects addressing those needs. The local, regional, and national activities of APAMSA aim to promote the health of the APIA community and help healthcare workers understand how to care for APIA patients in a culturally sensitive manner. Finally, APAMSA provides an important venue for medical students to meet, exchange experiences, and develop personally and professionally through leadership and service.

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU Welcomes Two Canadian Institutions to Clinical Network

Through new agreements with two Canadian facilities, St. George’s University medical students can now receive highly specialized clinical training north of the US border.

In August, SGU welcomed Ottawa Cardiovascular Centre and Booth Neurology Clinic to its clinical network of more than 70 training locations, further expanding the opportunities available to fourth-year students to broaden their skills and knowledge in preparation for residency.

“We’ve been thrilled by the response from our students,” said Sandra Banner, St. George’s University’s director of admissions for Canada. “With these training opportunities, they obtain a close-up sense of the Canadian healthcare system, and are able to experience some of the differences between the US and Canada, inevitably improving their chances of success on their exams and in pursuit of residency.”

 

“With these training opportunities, students obtain a close-up sense of the Canadian healthcare system, and are able to experience some of the differences between the US and Canada, inevitably improving their chances of success on their exams and in pursuit of residency.”

Sandra Banner, Director of Admissions, Canada

 

Applications for training positions at each site are now being taken for the charter class intake in November 2019. Ms. Banner said that SGU students are able to pair up the elective opportunities, giving them two full months in Canada’s capital city. At each clinical site, they will work directly with physicians who have dual appointments with University of Ottawa Medical School.

“Rotating in clinical training facilities throughout Canada, the US, and UK gives our students a worldly view of medicine that they can’t get just anywhere,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University. “We firmly believe that taking advantage of these unique opportunities not only benefit them as they ramp up toward residency but well into their medical careers.”

Canadians have flourished at SGU and beyond, with 94 percent of eligible students and graduates applying for residency in North America successfully obtaining one in 2019. Eighteen Canadians who applied through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) secured residencies in competitive fields ranging from anesthesiology and emergency medicine to pathology and psychiatry.

– Brett Mauser

St. George’s University Celebrates IMG Recognition Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cancer Scare Inspires Grad to Become Oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Julia Brockway-Marchello, MD

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Brockway-Marchello, MD, Breast Oncologist

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

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

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

Julia Brockway-Marchello, MD, Breast Oncologist

– Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Helped 2019 Graduate Succeed “Beyond Medical School”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Navy Inspires SGU Students During Visit to Grenada

The US Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, while on a five-month deployment to Central and South America and the Caribbean, stopped in Grenada last month as part of the US Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. During their visit, US service members and medical professionals toured St. George’s University’s True Blue campus, and met with SGU students, faculty, and staff to showcase the ship’s medical capabilities and answer questions about life as a physician aboard the Comfort.

“Trying to give long-term care to patients when you only see them for 20 minutes is very tricky,” said Captain Jill Emerick, a 27-year Navy veteran and pediatric endocrinologist. “I joined this mission to learn more about humanitarian medicine and to give back—however, I got back much more than I expected. It’s been amazing interacting with the host nations’ physicians and medical students and learning how things are done in different countries. We were happy to answer all of the students’ questions and felt like we were really making an impact on their future medical careers.

“The most rewarding part of the mission has been in providing patient education,” she added. “It has allowed us to help fill in some of the gaps that there might be in their current health care setting.”

The Comfort’s current team consists of more than 900 personnel, including medical specialists from the military, non-governmental organization volunteers and personnel from partner nations. The 12-country mission includes stops to Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Haiti. So far, the Comfort has had over 40,000 outpatient encounters and performed more than 850 surgeries during the Enduring Promise 2019 initiative.

“I enjoyed meeting the crew and hearing their thoughts on being a doctor in the Navy,” said Matthew Carvey, a second-year medical student and president of the Emergency Medicine Club. “I wanted to learn about their camaraderie and how well they work alongside each other after being cooped up together for months at a time. I deeply respect and admire people in the Navy for lending their time and expertise to these missions. I also think that, after I become a physician, possibly joining them one day would be a great experience.”

Originally the SS Rose City, built in 1976 as a San Clemente Class oil tanker, the USNS Comfort was converted into a hospital ship in 1987. Today, the Comfort is equipped with 1,000 beds, a full-service laboratory and pharmacy, and can provide clinical support such as, casualty transportation, decontamination, oxygen production and portable water production. Its medical site capabilities include pediatrics, cardiology, optometry, dental medicine, physical therapy, and preventive medicine.

“SGU is grateful to the crew members of the USNS Comfort for their candor in sharing the pros and cons of being a physician in the US Navy,” said Dr. Anna Cyrus-Murden, deputy chair of SGU’s Department of Clinical Skills. “Those in attendance all seemed to value the experience, especially the students. Their visit has not only impacted some students’ choice of specialties but has also piqued some of their interests in now serving in the Navy as well.”

Since 2007, personnel involved in USNS Comfort deployments have treated more than 488,000 patients, performed over 5,500 surgeries, completed more than 100 engineering projects, and conducted countless other assistance activities. Their visit to Grenada reflects the United States’ ongoing commitment to friendship, partnership, and solidarity with partner nations.

-Ray-Donna Peters