California’s doctor shortage is acute, with the situation poised to get worse. In an opinion piece appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University, shared why California needs more internationally educated doctors.
“International graduates are perfectly suited to meet the healthcare needs of historically medically underserved Californians,” Dr. Olds wrote. “Low-income Californians deserve access to high-quality care. The state needs more doctors to supply that care. International medical graduates can be those doctors.”
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Students from around the world took their first steps into their medical education at the traditional White Coat Ceremony, inaugurating the 12th year of a partnership between St. George’s University and Northumbria University in Newcastle, England.
Seventy-five students from countries including Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Botswana were formally inducted into the St. George’s University School of Medicine/Northumbria University Joint MD Program. Since its establishment in 2007, the SGU/NU program has welcomed more than 1,700 students to the medical education track.
Path of Lifelong Learning
Emceeing the ceremonies was Leah Ratner, MD ’14, an alumna of the joint program who is now a pediatric global health fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts. Recounting stories from her time practicing in the US and attending conferences in Mexico, Dr. Ratner advised new students to adopt a multidimensional approach to medicine that goes “beyond the exam room” and encompasses the social determinants of health. She urged them to “empathize with others” and the personal and structural problems that their patients may face, and to take personal responsibility for working toward equity and justice in healthcare and medical institutions.
Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado, and a former visiting professor at SGU, delivered the keynote address. He encouraged the students embarking on a “path of lifelong learning” to think of medicine as a series of complex adaptive systems, where knowledge of individual parts is not the same as an understanding of the whole, and outcomes will depend upon doctors’ abilities to constantly address these evolving challenges.
“We are creating our professional culture all the time, in every ordinary decision we make,” he told students, echoing Dr. Ratner’s advice to address the “hard questions” about doctors’ social responsibilities.
To open the day’s proceedings, Professor Jon Reast, pro-vice chancellor at Northumbria University, paid special tribute to Baroness Howells of St. Davids, a former trustee of the St. George’s University UK Trust and a firm fixture of White Coat Ceremonies in years past.
Baroness Howells, who stepped down from the House of Lords earlier this year, is the only Grenadian to join the peerage and is a former president of the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), a Grenada-based research institute that collaborates with SGU.
The SGU/Northumbria joint program, formerly the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program, was founded in 2007 to create a pathway for highly qualified international students to pursue a world-class medical education by beginning their physician training with SGU at Northumbria, before going to Grenada to continue their studies. Earlier this year, the universities announced that the joint program would be expanded to allow students to complete up to two years of their pre-clinical medical education in the UK.
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An op/ed piece by Dr. Richard Liebowitz (right), vice chancellor of St. George’s University, recently appeared on realcleareducation.com. In it, he explained the crucial role that international medical schools play in training highly qualified students that eventually become much-needed physicians in the United States.
“The odds of gaining admission to U.S. medical schools are growing longer,” Dr. Liebowitz wrote. “But bright young Americans don’t have to give up their dreams of becoming doctors. They can turn to top-notch international medical schools. Their future patients will surely thank them.”
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In Hong Kong, more than 400 students were in attendance as St. George’s University dean and professor Dr. Marios Loukas presented at the Global Aspiring Medic Conference (GAMC) on July 20. The conference, organized by ARCH Community Outreach (ACO) in collaboration with The University of Hong Kong (HKU), is the largest student medical conference in Asia. As one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Loukas gave a presentation on “Translational Research in Clinical Anatomy; The Way Forward”, which introduced the application of translational research as a tool to address the gap between gross anatomy and patient care.
“Our aim was to show these students how medicine relates with research,” said Dr. Loukas, dean of basic sciences and research at SGU. “We demonstrated how we can use new surgical techniques and approaches that we discovered at SGU, and how we can apply them to solve typical problems that we see in the hospital in patients. We identify a problem, take it back to the lab, solve it, and then go back into the hospital and implement that procedure. This approach is now being used in hospitals all over the world, from Japan to the United States.”
In addition to his keynote speech, Dr. Loukas also held a practical workshop titled, “The Use of Ultrasound in Everyday Practice”, where he performed ultrasounds on eager volunteers, wowing the 50+ students attending. He explained how a doctor could diagnose a patient through the use of an ultrasound scan and also gave each participant invaluable hands-on experience operating the ultrasound device.
“I think the students enjoyed both the lecture and the ultrasound session,” stated Dr. Loukas. “I believe ultrasound is the stethoscope of the future. It has so many uses and has become a cost-saving modality these days, and much less expensive. My hope is that many of these students here today will eventually become doctors treating patients and remember these experiences at the GAMC that were crucial to following this career path.”
At the end of the workshop participants received a copy of Dr. Loukas’ new book, Essential Ultrasound Anatomy, which he co-authored with Dr. Danny Burns. The book provides today’s students with a solid foundation in regional ultrasound anatomy by offering practical, comprehensive coverage of the ultrasound images and important structures that are most frequently encountered in daily practice.
“The book project started three years ago,” Dr. Loukas said. “Dr. Burns and I wanted to combine anatomy within ultrasound, so that students from other courses such as physiology or pathology could understand how we use ultrasound. This forms the basis for any type of student or even resident to start diagnosing different conditions.
“Interestingly, the entire design of the book’s pictures and illustrations were all created here at SGU in our new illustration unit,” added Dr. Loukas. “Since we have medical illustrators in-house, that makes it much easier for us when we’re publishing a paper or writing books. In fact, the quality of the finished product then becomes that much higher.”
In 2011, SGU introduced ultrasound teaching into the Department of Basic Sciences. Today, the department now offers a Point of Care Ultrasound Certification course, allowing students to become certified in ultrasound, which provides an enormous advantage during their clinical years and residencies. St. George’s University is one of the few schools that provides such an intensive ultrasound course.
Additionally, the University has substantially invested over $1 million in the ultrasound technology at the True Blue Campus. Currently, it has more than20 ultrasound units that are operated in conjunction with standardized patients. Each ultrasound station can hold up to four students, paired with a standardized patient and a clinical tutor demonstrating how the device is operated.
– Ray-Donna Peters
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Tracey O’Brien, MD ’19, with Chancellor Charles Modica and father John O’Brien, MD ’81, at commencement ceremonies in New York City
Connecticut native Dr. Tracey O’Brien travelled thousands of miles to attend St. George’s University. But for the 2019 graduate, a new internal medicine resident at Queens Hospital Center in New York, studying medicine in Grenada also represented a homecoming of sorts.
“My dad was a member of the St. George’s University charter class,” Dr. O’Brien said. “He’s taken my family on multiple trips to Grenada. I became very familiar with the island, the school, and all those who live there.”
On one trip, her father brought her and her family to a local hospital. Seeing the amputees’ limited access to care prompted him to open a prosthetics clinic. The entire O’Brien family worked at the clinic, which has since helped dozens of Grenadians walk again.
“The resilience of the patients was inspiring,” Dr. O’Brien said. “At the beginning, they’re leaning on your shoulder and struggling to move by themselves. But within just a half hour, they’re walking out the door. They were so appreciative, and it was so rewarding to see that.”
Dr. O’Brien’s work in the prosthetics clinic helped her realize her dreams of becoming a doctor—but not without a few detours along the way.
Initially, she planned to pursue veterinary medicine. She received an undergraduate degree in animal science from the University of Connecticut and worked at a zoo and a veterinary office. But she could not help but feel that something was missing.
“I’d gained significant experience with animal science,” Dr. O’Brien said. “But I also wanted to give back to the community and help people who were suffering. That’s when I realized I wanted to become a physician—and to start my career at the school where my dad learned to help people.”
St. George’s was the perfect fit for multiple reasons. Dr. O’Brien enjoyed SGU’s lecture-based curriculum and collaborative work environment. Her love of engaging with others made picking a specialty for residency an easy choice.
“I really am a people person, and that’s why I fell in love with internal medicine,” she said. “You get to know your patients so well, and really help them with all facets of their health.”
Dr. O’Brien is thrilled to be practicing medicine in New York. But she’s looking forward to returning to Grenada—to give back to the community that set her on the path toward becoming a doctor.
“I definitely plan on returning and providing the community with the healthcare services they need,” she said. “I would love to do that.”
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Dr. Kate Alemann has racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles. The New Zealand native, a 2019 St. George’s University graduate and newly minted resident, has traversed the globe to pursue her dream of becoming a physician.
“Living in Grenada was entirely new to me. But when I got to St. George’s University, I realized I was surrounded by people who shared my love for medicine,” said Dr. Alemann, who joined the emergency medicine residency program at Saint Louis University School of Medicine this summer. “Like me, they were willing to travel thousands of miles to prove they had what it took to be a physician.”
Dr. Alemann grew up in Auckland and spent much of her youth sailing, surfing, and playing basketball. She excelled on the basketball court, ultimately joining New Zealand’s national team and playing in the Australian Youth Olympic Tournament at the age of 17.
Her athletic prowess caught the attention of colleges in the United States. She played at Mineral Area College in Missouri from 2010 to 2012 and then transferred to Mercer College, a Division I program in Macon, GA.
For Dr. Alemann, choosing to play basketball at an elite level was a given. Choosing a major proved more difficult.
“I really struggled with deciding what I wanted to study. But my favorite class in high school was a sports science course,” she said. “It dealt with the science behind optimizing physical performance. I really loved learning about the human body, so I decided to declare pre-med. Looking back, it was the best decision I ever made.”
After college, Dr. Alemann worked in an urgent care clinic as a patient care representative. Once she arrived at SGU, she served as an instructor and guidance counselor at the Department of Educational Services.
“I loved every subject at SGU. As we progressed each semester, the material became even more interesting,” she said. “I really feel that SGU gave us all the tools we needed to excel.”
When it came time to select a specialty, Dr. Alemann knew she wanted to work in a fast-paced, active environment.
“I remember one particular night shift in the emergency department that was insanely busy,” she said. “That might have been stressful for some people. But when I left the hospital afterward, I was happier than when I’d walked in the door 13 hours earlier.”
Now, Dr. Alemann experiences that sense of fulfillment every day, as an emergency medicine resident in St. Louis.
“It’s the best feeling to finally practice as a doctor,” she said. “I’m thrilled with my match, and I’m already learning so much.”
“On the interview trail, I heard from multiple hospitals that SGU graduates are some of the most hardworking and professional residents,” Dr. Alemann said. “For anyone considering SGU, I can honestly say my years on the island were some of the best of my life.”
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Dr. Joshua Ramjist was both humbled and surprised as the crowded room—full of his peers and mentors—rose to its feet. Just moments earlier, he had been announced not only as Maimonides Medical Center Department of Surgery’s Chief Resident of the Year but its Chief Resident of the Decade.
The 2011 St. George’s University alum was presented the award by Dr. Patrick Borgen, Surgery Chair at Maimonides, at the department’s graduation ceremony held at Above Rooftop on Staten Island in June. Dr. Ramjist was recognized for his impact not only with patients but on the hospital and the education of the residents and medical students he oversaw.
“In the audience were chief residents who were there when I was a medical student. Coming into the program, they were my heroes; I wanted to be like them,” said Dr. Ramjist, who began a pediatric trauma fellowship at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto this month. “To be acknowledged by them and to see the pride they had in helping me become who I am was incredible.”
Dr. Ramjist estimated that there have been between 50 and 75 chief residents in the department over the past decade.
“It was a complete surprise,” he said. “It was surreal to get a standing ovation. I was hoping to Chief Resident of the Year and thought that would be great, but this upped the bar significantly.”
In applying for residencies, Dr. Ramjist was drawn to Maimonides, where he had rotated during Year 3 as an SGU student. He not only enjoyed his clinical experience there, but also cited the hospital’s affinity for SGU grads as well as its history in surgery as deciding factors. Maimonides was the site for the first heart transplant in the US, and the intra-aortic balloon pump, a key innovation in cardiac procedures, was developed in its research lab.
“Maimonides is always pushing the needle,” he said. “It’s full of this rich history that is woven into the tapestry of Brooklyn and of America as a whole.”
“Much of what I did for changing the face value of the department came from what I learned in the MBA program,” he said. “How I wanted us to be structured as an organization from a residency perspective stemmed from identifying leadership, establishing a chain of command, maintaining checks and balances, and applying the principles of leadership and management.”
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“Why do my arms fold this way? How can I feel my heart, but not see it?”
Most children don’t quiz their parents about human anatomy. But Gaelle Antoine, a 2019 graduate of St. George’s University and future anesthesiologist, was fascinated with the workings of the human body from an early age.
“My mother is a nurse, so I spent a great deal of time in hospital wards growing up,” Dr. Antoine said. “I still remember how dedicated she was to her patients, and how thankful they were when they recovered under her care. That connection was inspiring to me—and drove my interest in a career in medicine.”
Earlier thismonth, Dr. Antoine began a yearlong preliminary program in internal medicine at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, NY. Next year, she’ll start an anesthesiology residency at Brown University, where she’ll be working at Rhode Island Hospital/Lifespan Health System.
Dr. Antoine’s childhood spanned North America. She was born in Brooklyn, but grew up in Haiti. However, the political instability there drove her family to move to Tampa, FL, in 2005. She eventually returned to New York for her senior year of high school. After graduating, Dr. Antoine enrolled at Brooklyn College for premedical training and Biological Sciences.
She applied to St. George’s University after receiving her college diploma. SGU appealed to Dr. Antoine for many reasons—paramount among them, a family connection.
“My brother actually went to SGU and had a great experience,” Dr. Antoine said. “It was easy for me to decide to attend. It basically runs in my family.”
Choosing a specialty proved more challenging. Pediatrics, OB/GYN, and several others interested her. But when she discovered anesthesiology during her clinical rotations, Dr. Antoine realized she had found her calling.
“Anesthesiology offers the perfect combination of the medical complexities of internal medicine with the procedural aspects of surgery,” she said. “Many of my classmates found the surgeries more interesting. But anesthesiology was more fascinating to me than operations.”
Securing an anesthesiology residency is difficult. But Dr. Antoine impressed her future colleagues at Brown.
“Brown put more weight on the quality of the individual student, and their dedication to learning,” she said. “That was attractive to me.”
Dr. Antoine also appreciated that Brown valued diversity, especially given that anesthesiology has historically been dominated by men.
“The residency program director takes the time to ask the women in our program how he can improve their individual experiences,” she said. “Being in a field that’s 80 percent male—that means so much to me. That’s when I realized Brown was where I wanted to train. I can’t imagine a more supportive community.”
Dr. Antoine attributes her success in part to SGU’s supportive community. “The resources provided in the Department of Educational Services were unparalleled,” she said. “The well-rounded curriculum at St. George’s was key to my success on both my USMLE and in matching into my residency.”
“Our faculty pushed us to be our best—and it wasn’t the easiest at times,” she added. “But in the long run, if you put in the work and stay focused, it will pay off.”
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In its 17th year, the St. George’s University Med/Vet Summer Leadership Academy continued to provide an insider’s view for college and high school students interested in exploring a career in medicine or veterinary medicine. This summer also marked the largest turnout since the program’s inception in 2002, with 133 aspiring physicians and veterinarians visiting the University’s True Blue campus in Grenada.
The high school student program ran for 10 days, while the Medical Leadership component of the college student program spanned 12 days. Qualified students are eligible for college credit through the School of Arts and Sciences.
“By coming here, students get the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not this career choice is right for them,” said Avi Bahadoor-Yetman, director of the Med/Vet Summer Leadership Academy. “This experience will either reinforce their passion to practice medicine or veterinary medicine or help them decide this is not the professional path for them.”
Hailing from the United States, Canada, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines and more than 10 other countries, the students were taught through a series of lectures, small-group problem solving sessions, hands-on training, and practical lab work. This year’s lectures ranged from cardiology and neurology to musculoskeletal and gastroenterology, and each is followed by sessions in the anatomy lab during which students work with human and animal cadavers.
However, the program isn’t all work. The academics are balanced out by watersports such as sailing, waterskiing, and snorkeling, as well as hiking through Grenada’s rainforests and other activities that highlight the culture and beauty of the island.
Nonetheless, fatigue is built into program and no matter the schedule, the 15-hour days are by design.
“Attending medical school or veterinary school is both rigorous and exhausting in nature,” said Ms. Bahadoor-Yetman. “Hence the program is designed to create an authentic experience successfully balancing a challenging academic program with extracurricular activities. They get a taste of curriculum, SGU, and Grenada. In addition, the quality of the professors and the organization of the staff help make this an invaluable experience that enhances students’ knowledge in the field of medicine or veterinary medicine, while also offering a tremendous opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery.”
– Ray-Donna Peters
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FOX & Friends host Ed Henry announced on Sunday that he will soon donate part of his liver to his sister, Colleen, who requires a transplant to address a degenerative liver disease.
Mr. Henry and the FOX & Friends team were joined on set by transplant hepatologist and gastroenterologist Joseph Galati, MD ’87, who shed light on what to expect as he undergoes a major surgery to help his sister.
“Your donation is probably the ultimate altruistic act of selflessness,” Dr. Galati said. “The main thing is that, during this recovery, you may wake up in a day or two and feel absolutely awesome, but then four days later, not feel so good. In your recovery, you have to be able to deal with the ups and the downs and try to find a middle ground so that you have really good expectations. It’s going to be a process.”
Dr. Galati’s practice, Liver Specialists of Texas in Houston, treats patients suffering from both acute and chronic disease. He also serves as the medical director at the Center for Liver Disease and Heart Transplantation at Houston’s Methodist Hospital and is president of the Texas International Endoscopy Center.
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