SGU Partners with San Jose State University for Virtual Nursing Experience

Traditionally, 15 to 30 nursing students from San Jose State University (SJSU) would have spent the summer honing their public health skills at St. George’s University in Grenada as part of a more than seven-year partnership between the institutions. This year, however, with a global pandemic bringing much of normal activity to a halt, meeting in person was impossible.

However, with the support of leadership from both universities, the first-ever virtual service-learning placement was created, while still ensuring quality and parity were achieved.

“I thought long and hard about this decision,” said Deborah Nelson, a nursing lecturer at the College of Health and Human Services, SJSU. “I felt a commitment to all the students, both universities, and the Grenadian community. We wanted to be sure to explore any and all possible solutions to maintaining this partnership before cancelling. Therefore, the online version had to not only meet the courses’ and programs’ learning outcomes but it had to be meaningful to all involved.”

According to Ms. Nelson, this is one of the first programs of its kind in the US to offer credits towards a major global senior nursing practicum, while also granting the SJSU students the opportunity to graduate a semester earlier. Spearheaded by Dr. Tamara McKinnon, a lecturer in community health and research at the Valley Foundation School of Nursing at SJSU, she also played an integral part as one of the three faculty members involved in both the creation and execution of the new venture.

Though virtual this year, the course’s main objectives still remained the same—including using evidence-based nursing to promote health, analyzing the influence of health policies on individuals, delivering education that impacts health literacy, and conducting environmental assessments. All classes and lectures were held jointly via Zoom, while coursework was integrated and joint projects evenly balanced with SGU and SJSU students partnering.

“COVID-19 continues to have an adverse impact on many,” stated Ms. Nelson, “However, it is an amazing feeling to be able to say that all involved made it possible for these nursing students to not only participate in an intercultural learning experience but to stay on track for their graduation. This allows them to soon be able to join the global nursing workforce when they are most needed.”

Among those who participated in the program was Chelsea Moreno, a part-time float nurse currently completing her final semester in the RN to BSN program at San Jose State. Ms. Moreno, who decided to pursue a career in nursing after witnessing her brother go through his first surgery as an infant, chose to participate in the virtual service-learning placement because it gave her the opportunity to both graduate a semester earlier and be a part of a group to do something different.

“Even with such short notice and a hurried transition to go from a physical faculty-led program to a virtual course, I definitely believe this class was a success,” commented Ms. Moreno. “I learned about cultural awareness in a new way and I was a part of something never done before at SJSU. I was able to bond with nursing students from across the globe and was truly sad during our last meeting. We even started a group phone chat in hopes to one day meet in person and further deepen our understanding of each other and our different cultures.”

Also attending the virtual course was Marci Yaeger, she too completing her final year in the BSN program at SJSU. After spending eight years in the field as a medical assistant, she was inspired by the nurses she worked with, whose knowledge and skills in medicine motivated her to do more.

“One of the main objectives of the program was to be able to communicate effectively in a cross-cultural setting,” stated Ms. Yaeger. “By having small group discussions with the students from Grenada, I learned that what is natural for me—such as language, slang, or mannerisms—may be confusing to someone from a different culture. This really gave me a new perspective as to how I present myself to peers and to patients who may not share my culture, values, and experiences.”

“As course directors, we had to be strategic in designing this virtual course,” said Dr. Jennifer Solomon, chair and director of the Nursing Department at SGU. “We looked at how we could offer a course that met the objectives, while utilizing innovative teaching that would allow the students the opportunity to gain the experience and credits they needed without losing time.”

As to be expected, having classes via Zoom included minor technical difficulties and the balancing of two different time zones between California and Grenada. Nevertheless, both students and faculty touted the virtual service-learning placement as a success.

“For me, the design and collaboration with my SJSU colleagues has been an extremely empowering and positive experience and showcases what can be achieved,” added Dr. Solomon. “It may have been easier to cancel, but I am incredibly proud that we did not.”


— Ray-Donna Peters

D’Elia Memorial Scholarship Established to Honor Late SGU Graduate

Alexis D’Elia, MD ’08

Her future as a cardiologist was as bright as a fresh white coat, her list of achievements in just a short time both long and staggeringly impressive. Alexis D’Elia, MD ’08, was a rising star in medicine, deeply committed to her practice, medical research, and the well-being of her patients.

Only cancer—a difficult opponent for many—could hold her back, and even then it couldn’t. Diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in 2012, Dr. D’Elia continued to practice and teach and help all of those around her for nearly four years, before passing away on October 26, 2016, at just 34 years old.

To honor their dear friend and roommate, St. George’s University graduates Christine Goette, Panagiota Korenis, Anuradha Naidu, and Francine Scaffidi have created the Dr. Alexis D’Elia Memorial Scholarship Fund. With Alexis’ parents, Joseph and Ann D’Elia, and the fund’s board of directors, they hope to provide funding for a future generation of physicians to attend SGU and conduct potentially life-changing biomedical research.

Dr. Goette said that the ideal candidate not only exhibits a passion for medicine and publishing research but also a zest for life.

“This scholarship is a way to continue to honor Alexis’ passion by continuing her legacy of supporting others, of striving for excellence, contributing to important research, and helping others reach their goals,” said Dr. Goette, an internist with San Rafael Medical Center in California. She added that the board aims to make the scholarship “bolder, bigger, better, and touch even more people” in hopes of it mirroring the ambitions of that for whom it was named.

“We couldn’t be prouder of all that Alexis accomplished in her time as a physician,” added Daniel Ricciardi, MD ’81, dean of US clinical studies for St. George’s University. “She was one of those people who lit up a room and who you never forget. With this scholarship, we look forward to helping other bright students realize their own dreams and make a positive impact on countless patients in the world of medicine.”

A Commitment to Excellence

Alexis D’Elia grew up in a family of lawyers—her grandfather a State Supreme Court judge, her father a magistrate judge, and her brother, Justin, a lawyer as well. Yet she was drawn to medicine from a young age, according to her family.

“She just had a passion for it,” said Ann D’Elia. “She did very well in her science courses. It just clicked with her more so than business or law.”

Dr. D’Elia graduated from Connecticut College with a 4.0 grade point average, with degrees in neuropsychology and psychobiology. During that time, she saw the first of her many research articles published while just a junior in college. Dr. D’Elia was accepted to two osteopathic schools in the United States but opted to pursue a Doctor of Medicine degree at St. George’s University.

While in Grenada, she dove into her studies, and became part of a close-knit student community. Upon graduating, Dr. D’Elia made a quick ascent in cardiology, completing an internal medicine residency and cardiac fellowship at New York University Winthrop Hospital—the hospital where she was born. It was in her second year of her fellowship that she was diagnosed with stage 2 metastatic breast cancer. After major surgery and nine months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she returned to her fellowship and caring for patients.

“As long as she could do it, she was going to do it—that’s just who she was, that’s who we remember, and that’s who this scholarship award is named after,” Joseph D’Elia said. “She was an extraordinarily talented woman.”

Her drive led her to finish her cardiac fellowship at Montefiore Hospital Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and take on a second fellowship in cardiac imaging. Then, at the behest of world-renowned cardiologist Mario Garcia, she applied for and was accepted into a vascular fellowship at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Shortly after arriving in Cleveland, however, Dr. D’Elia was forced to return home to continue her battle with cancer, yet she still managed to work as a cardiologist at Montefiore.

“She was an extremely caring person, and despite the difficulties she faced personally, she was 100 percent devoted to her patients,” said Dr. Garcia, chief of the Division of Cardiology at Montefiore. “I think she worked until probably the last day she could stand on her feet. It was quite a moving experience for all of us to see what she had to endure. Even until the last moment, she was dedicated to her profession, her patients, and her peers.”

Dr. D’Elia was often accompanied her mother or father on long drives to the Bronx, sometimes through snowstorms, to care for patients.

“I remember asking her when she got out of the car one day, ‘don’t you think you’ve put in enough? Maybe it’s time to sit back,” Mr. D’Elia recalled. “She said to me, ‘I’ve been given a bad hand. I did everything I wanted to do. I’m going to see people in there today who may have never seen a cardiologist in their life. I need to help them.’”

Finding a Cure

In reviewing her own diagnostic imaging, Dr. D’Elia was the first to identify the tumor that spawned a four-year battle with cancer. She and her family visited and consulted with hospitals and cancer institutes around the country—Memorial Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, New York University, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and many more. However, her form of breast cancer—HER2-positive disease­—was both rare and aggressive, resistant to customary cancer treatment drugs Herceptin and Perjeta.

For the D’Elia family, their voyage forward is less about treatment than it is finding a cure for their rare condition. Through the scholarship in their daughter’s name, they hope to inspire future physicians to aim high in their own research, to solve the kinds of mysteries in medicine that Alexis D’Elia was primed to find herself, if given more time.

“We’ve dedicated ourselves to this,” Mr. D’Elia said.

The D’Elia family presented the inaugural scholarship award last fall to Matthew Peachey, MD/MSc ’20. Dr. Peachey, who began an internal medicine residency at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in July, was honored with the $10,000 scholarship at a dinner in Dr. D’Elia’s honor.

“I was beyond flattered to receive the award,” said Dr. Peachey, who hopes to serve as a hospitalist in the future. “I keep the award on my desk, and during my most trying days, it is a reminder that things could be exponentially more difficult, and someone believes in me.”

Interested in learning more information or applying for the scholarship? Contact Dr. Panagiota Korenis Rios at


— Brett Mauser 

St. George’s University Adds New US Clinical Sites for Medical School Student Core Rotations

SGU Students at Clinical Rotations

St. George’s University has finalized agreements with seven new hospitals across the United States, including several in California as well as a new venue into the South that will allow for third-year medical students to receive core clinical training during a crucial time in healthcare.

The hospitals that will now be designated as SGU clinical sites include:

  • Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Baton Rouge, LA
  • Doctor’s Medical Center in Modesto, CA
  • Hemet Valley Medical Center in Hemet, CA
  • MacNeal Hospital in Maywood, IL
  • Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City, CA
  • Westchester General Hospital in Miami, FL
  • Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY

Each hospital will offer a range of core rotations for third-year students including: internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, OB/GYN, surgery, and/or psychiatry. The hospitals will also offer students elective rotations; more information on electives available at each hospital will be forthcoming.

“The new clinical sites offer placement for all students, but especially for those who hail from Florida, California, Louisiana, or nearby states, who would like to continue their clinical training closer to home,” said Daniel D. Ricciardi, dean of clinical studies for SGU’s School of Medicine. “In addition, given that each hospital has a residency associated with it, a clinical placement could also lead to opportunity to audition and interview for residencies in any of these hospitals for our students—that’s the key.”

Wyckoff Heights Medical Center

Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY.

With accredited programs in emergency medicine, internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics, and pediatrics—in addition to electives that span the gamut—Wyckoff Heights Medical Center is ready for SGU students to enter its doors for continued medical education, said Dr. Ken Freiberg, vice president of medical education at the institution.

“We are really looking forward to this,” Dr. Freiberg said. “We are going to probably have approximately 100 SGU students at our institution for clinical training by September or October.”

Following rotation fulfillment, students will be encouraged to apply for the highly competitive residency programs at the hospital, he added.

This year, more than 1,100 SGU grads matched in residency programs that span internal medicine to pediatrics, emergency medicine, surgery, and anesthesia, among other specialties.

SGU has developed longstanding relationships with many hospital and clinical center partners in the US and United Kingdom. The additional clinical sites boost SGU’s clinical network to more than 60 locations across the US, with another 17 clinical sites in the UK.

In 1999, SGU’s School of Medicine inaugurated a system of clinical centers to add to its already impressive list of affiliated hospitals. A clinical center is defined as a hospital, or group of hospitals, able to provide at least four core rotations and train 80 to 100 students at all times while providing sub-internships, primary care rotations, and electives.

View SGU’s list of affiliated hospitals and clinical centers on our website.

“Our clinical rotations allow our students to gain knowledge of different patient populations in a variety of settings and environments, offering valuable hands-on experience as they complete their final two years of medical studies,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, vice chancellor at SGU. “These clinical site additions allow SGU to expand upon a system that has proven successful not only in the education of our medical students, but also in creating a community for students to thrive. We are thrilled to add these new locations to our broad clinical network.”

Incoming third-year students will be able to apply for clinical rotations at each of the hospitals starting in September. For more information, please email Dean Ricciardi at



 – Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Grad Translates Research Evidence to Combat COVID-19

Ahmad Firas Khalid, MD '09

Ahmad Firas Khalid, MD ’09

As a medical doctor, a health policy researcher, and a lecturer on health systems, Firas Khalid, MD ’09, finds himself in the perfect position to utilize the knowledge and experience he’s acquired to address the present health crisis and its urgent population health needs.

Currently a research manager at Evidence Aid, Dr. Khalid’s expertise in health policy, specifically in health and humanitarian emergencies, is put to good use, as he dedicates his time and effort into translating research evidence to inform policy and practice since the beginning of the pandemic. He spends most of his days ensuring that review summaries relevant to COVID-19 displayed on the company’s website are robust, high-quality, clearly-written and accessible to all users.

“I was always keen to pursue a career in healthcare and in health systems,” said Dr. Khalid, who’s originally from Jordan. “I was particularly drawn to learning how to better strengthen health systems’ response to emergencies. Although I no longer practice medicine as a clinician, I utilize the medical knowledge and experience I acquired from SGU daily in all the roles I play—as an educator to my diverse set of students and as a health policy researcher and advisor on key health issues.”

On a professional level, for Dr. Khalid and many others in the medical community, the pandemic has had a significant impact on his life. He finds himself on the news almost daily, answering COVID-19 pressing questions by the public and utilizing his social media platforms to help disseminate the best available evidence. Meanwhile, as an educator, he’s used this time to push himself to create a new course for his students at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada that addresses current health issues related to governance in health and humanitarian emergencies.

“However, it is on a personal level that I feel this health crisis has had an even bigger impact on my life,” shared Dr. Khalid. “It has brought me much closer to my family and friends, especially my colleagues from SGU that are currently practicing in the US in various specialties, who I turn to daily for their expert insights on major health issues.”

Today, Dr. Khalid is currently leading a monitoring and evaluation research project on COVID-19 evidence summaries to better understand how to support knowledge needs in crisis zones. While in addition to his course at McMaster, he is also teaching two other health policy and systems courses in the fall at Wilfred Laurier University, and York University located in Brantford and Toronto, Ontario respectively.

“COVID-19 has tested my medical and health policy knowledge to the maximum,” added Dr. Khalid. “Hence, I am forever grateful to SGU for the exceptional medical education and experience I received. It has served me throughout my professional and personal career, and I am especially grateful for the lifelong friendships I developed during my time there. My colleagues are my go-to source for the most up-to-date medical insights on a diverse set of critical health issues and they are also part of my extended family. We developed a strong bond because of SGU and the experiences we shared in Grenada and beyond.”

Are you an SGU doctor succeeding in your career? Send us your story ideas. You can also share your story with us on social media by tagging SGU or using the hashtag #WeAreSGU and #SGUAlumni. 

– Ray-Donna Peters

Pediatrics Specialist Wins Patients’ Hearts By “Getting Down on Their Level”

Tara Matthews, MD '99, development behavioral pediatrician at Children's Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, NJ

Tara Matthews, MD ’99, is a development behavioral pediatrician at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, NJ.

For development pediatricians like Tara Matthews, MD ’99, being a good physician comes down to more than just a diagnosis, or knowledge, or treatment. Because of the unique patient population for which she provides care, she must emphasize learning what brought the patient to her office to begin with, and what makes him or her tick.

“In medical school, learning to care about patients and being compassionate is as important, and possibly even more important, than getting straight A’s,” Dr. Matthews said. “You need to listen to the patient because if you hear the clinical history and story from the patient, you will be able to figure out what’s going on with them.”

That is especially the case in her role as a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, NJ, yet it is not always easy. “Children are not little grownups,” she said. “You have to make the child feel comfortable and get down on their level.” Taking parents’ concerns and questions seriously is also imperative to success.

Since graduating from SGU, Dr. Matthews has spent the past 20 years working with young children in a variety of social, educational, and clinical settings, and has a special interest in Autism Spectrum Disorders. She focuses on children with a variety of development delays and behavioral issues, including children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other learning disabilities. The hospital network also offers outpatient therapies of all kinds for special-needs children.

In addition, if there is suspected behavior that warrants a medical investigation or neurological testing, the hospital is considered a first step for an evaluation, said Dr. Matthews, who is also the medical director of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders program at the FAS Regional Diagnostic Center at Children’s Specialized Hospital.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six children aged three to 17 years were diagnosed with a developmental disability, during a study period of 2009 to 2017. These disabilities included autism, ADHD, blindness, and cerebral palsy, among others, as reported by parents.

“I was really drawn to children with special needs, particularly those with autism. I somehow understand these kids, I get them, and these children are more relaxed with me.”

Following her pediatric residency at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Dr. Matthews worked as a hospitalist for seven years and held a short stint in private general practice. After seeing several patients in the practice who had autism, it bothered her that she couldn’t give children with developmental issues the extra individualized care they needed.

“I was really drawn to children with special needs, particularly those with autism,” Dr. Matthews, who is an aunt to several children, including one with autism who holds a special place in her heart. “I somehow understand these kids, I get them, and these children are more relaxed with me.”

At the time, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School/Children’s Specialized Hospital had just restarted a fellowship in developmental behavioral pediatrics. Dr. Matthews was the first fellow in the program.

Dr. Matthews acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge with treating some patients. While some have accepted virtual telemedicine as a way to see their doctor (and for their doctor to see the children in their home environment), for others it has been more taxing.

“I miss seeing patients in person; many draw pictures for me. My patients tend to hug me all the time, so I miss the personal touch,” she said.

Tara Matthews, MD'99, development behavioral pediatrician, Children's Specialized Hospital, Mountainside, NJ


Dr. Matthews credits her time at St. George’s University to help define her career path, with a strong background in pediatrics.

“At SGU, I feel like we really learned medicine,” she said. “When I was there, I don’t even think they had an MRI machine. We really learned how to diagnose clinically as opposed to relying on all kinds of tests.”

During clinical rotations, “St. George’s gave me the opportunity to rotate at a variety of different hospitals that exposed me to so much more than many of medical schools in the US,” she added. “As a medical student, I saw a large variety of patients who had unique needs.”

While in Grenada, Dr. Matthews also volunteered at the local orphanage, which provided her first exposure to children with special needs.

“My experience going to the orphanage every weekend really taught me a lot,” she said. “You could already see some children who were developmentally delayed—from having poor nutrition, for example. You could also see the emotional effects of being abandoned and then growing up in an orphanage. I learned that children are so different developmentally and so many factors play into it.”


Dr. Matthews believed so much in her path to becoming a physician that she took advantage of SGU’s Alumni Referral Grant program to nominate her medical scribe, Earyn Calvis, who will start Term 1 in August.

Ms. Calvis “reminds me a little bit of myself in that she is very good with children. The kids really take to her. She puts her whole heart into the work. She was always willing to go the extra mile to stay later with me and to learn about the patients,” Dr. Matthews said. “She’s has the right motivation for being a physician.”

While it is still early in her medical education, Miss Calvis is considering a career in pediatrics, partially as a result of her inspiring experience with Dr. Matthews.

“I think from the first day I met her I could tell that she was always willing to put the patient first,” Ms. Calvis said. “It set her apart from other physicians I worked with in the past. Even when she was getting their history or updates, you could tell she really connected with the kids and that’s especially hard in pediatrics. You have to make sure that the patient, as a child, really trusts you.”

“Dr. Matthews had a good gauge of what to expect in her interactions with patients,” she added. “It was so great to watch because that’s the type of doctor I want to be.”

Do you know of someone who is hoping to fulfill their dreams of becoming a doctor? SGU has launched a new referral program for deserving candidates to support their medical school journey—accepted School of Medicine students who are referred by our grads are eligible to receive a financial scholarship of up to $20,000 towards tuition. With online classes ready to go, SGU is welcoming new students for the Fall 2020 term, which starts on August 17. Learn more or refer a candidate today.



–Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Grads to Help Physician Shortage in Nevada

Several graduates of St. George’s University who recently started their residencies at hospitals in the state of Nevada were featured in an article by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Of the 14 residents who started this July, all but two are in family medicine or internal medicine, both areas where Nevada is in short supply of physicians.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which “really stresses a hospital system, particularly from a manpower standpoint,” having residency training programs is particularly important, said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University.

More than 40 SGU graduates have matched into Las Vegas-area residencies over the past five years.

Patient of SGU Alum: “I Owe This Doctor Everything”

In a recent edition of the Los Angeles Times, pulmonary and critical care specialist Baljinder Sidhu, MD ’06, was praised for the role that he played in the treatment of a patient who was intubated and on a ventilator at Marian Regional Medical Center due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Even after receiving a plasma infusion, she remained extremely ill and it was recommended that she be moved to another facility to be put on a lung bypass machine.

To facilitate this move and avoid any adverse consequences, Dr. Sidhu accompanied the patient in an ambulance for the three-hour trip to Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.

“I owe this doctor everything,” said the patient’s husband. “I’m not kidding you, this guy went above and beyond, riding in the ambulance all the way to make sure she got there safely.”

SGU Legacies: Father-Child MDs Share Love of Medicine

All of those who attend St. George’s University are warmly welcomed to the SGU family. But for many, the pursuit of a career in medicine is truly is a family affair—fathers, mothers, and then years later, their children. There are also brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and many more familial connections that are linked in the history of SGU.

To commemorate Father’s Day, SGU caught up with several physician graduates who either led the way for their children, or followed their father’s path to medicine.

Michael (’88) and Alexandra Lacqua (’20)

All her life, family and friends told Alexandra Lacqua, MD ’20, that she was just like her dad, Dr. Michael Lacqua, MD ’88, a reconstructive plastic surgeon in Staten Island, NY. Except she didn’t see it—at first.

The first inklings of her interest in medicine happened in high school, when she began to notice more often when patients would see her dad out in the community and thank him for his help. When Dr. A. Lacqua was in college, her dad founded a nonprofit organization—Healing Hands Abroad. The organization provides volunteer surgical care for underserved communities, scheduling trips to countries like the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Belize, among other places.

Dr. Lacqua, who is a triplet with two brothers and also has a younger sister, travelled to Belize several times with her dad to help with the mission work. It was during these trips that she began to envision herself in a career in healthcare.

“The first trip was the first time I saw him in that doctor role,” she said. “It was the first time I was ever in an OR with him and that’s when it started to click for me. I had always seen my dad as my dad, but now I was able to see him as the doctor everyone told me he was. And I could see he truly loved it.”

Dr. Lacqua is about to start an internal medicine residency at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL, on Monday. “The biggest thing I learned from him—especially on the mission trips—is to be an advocate for your patients,” she added. “He speaks up for them and always make sure their voices and their concerns are heard and validated. Patients know that and they really value that. That’s the biggest thing I want to take with me. I want patients to know that I am their doctor, and whatever it may be, we are going to work together to fix it.”

Dr. Michael Lacqua actually recognized that his eldest daughter had an interest in medicine when she was just a little girl.

“When she was younger, she saw me excited about going to work and the stories I told. She always asked about my emergency room visits—how did it happen, is the patient OK, how many stitches, etc.,” he said. “As I got into more elective surgeries, and she got older, she would ask more mature questions—they became more medically focused.”

“I want patients to know that I am their doctor, and whatever it may be, we are going to work together to fix it.”

Alexandra Lacqua, MD

And he noticed the dedication and perseverance in his daughter that it takes to be a good doctor.

“The best advice I could give her was to treat people as if they are your sister, brother, mother, or father, to treat them like they were your own family,” he said.

Dr. M. Lacqua said St. George’s University provided many opportunities—not only with the education but the exposure to variety and diversity on and off campus. “I began to realize that there is more to the world and appreciated more of what was happening in the world,” he said.

He hopes one day that Alexandra will take over the Healing Hands Abroad organization and mission work—and offer additional ways to support underserved communities around the world.

Dr. A. Lacqua said going to SGU was an easy decision for her, after seeing the success her dad has had as a surgeon. “I knew I would be in good hands going to Grenada,” she said.

Following her residency, Dr. Lacqua said she is considering specializing in endocrinology. “I like how comprehensive it is; I am interested in how hormones can really affect every part of the body—especially with diabetes and thyroid issues. I also like how you really get to follow your patients. l like having that time with the patient and being able to have those long-term relationships with patients,” she said.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Lacqua marked her graduation from SGU by having a small graduation ceremony in at her grandmother’s house with family, where her dad hooded her. Despite not being able to attend graduation at Lincoln Center due to COVID-19, “it was nice to mark to the day,” she said.

  • More Family Legacies

    The Sujkas: Joseph (MD ’14) and Stanley (MD ’82)

  • The Gilibertis: Francesca (MD ’10) and Orazio (MD ’82)

  • The Lahrmanns: Jeffrey (MD ’15) and Philip (MD ’81)

  • The Vazzanas: Virginia (MD ’17) and Thomas (MD ’85)

  • The Focazios: Cara (MD ’13) and William (MD ’82)

  • The Bagheris: Kaveh (MD ’87) and Kian (Term 3 student)

  • The O’Briens: Tracey (MD ’19) and John (MD ’81)

  • The Stranskys: Anna (MD ’19) and Martin (MD ’83)

  • The Lacquas: Alexandra (MD ’20) and Michael (MD ’88)

  • In 2018, Dr. Sarah Falk (right) accepted her diploma in 2018 from Chancellor Charles R. Modica, who welcomed SGU’s charter class, including Sarah’s father, Steven (pictured), to the university in 1977.

  • The Narulas. From left to right: Karan (Term 4 student), Samir (MD ’19), and Rajiv (MD ’89)

Rajiv (’89), Samir (’19), and Karan Narula (Term 4)

Rajiv Narula, MD ’89, is proud to keep the SGU legacy alive through both of his sons. His older son, Samir, is a 2019 graduate of the School of Medicine and a current surgical resident at Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn, NY. His younger son, Karan, is currently a Term 4 student at SGU.

“I am super proud to have them doing what they are and of course going to SGU,” said Dr. Narula, associate section chief of occupational health at Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital and medical director of International Travel Health Consultants, located in Poughkeepsie, NY and New York City.

“SGU gets you ready for the real world of medicine by pushing you to succeed in a very competitive environment with all the needed resources, be it the physical layout of the school, access to study aides, clinical instructors, small study groups, etc.,” he said.

According to Dr. Narula, his son, Samir, is enjoying his surgery residency, while his son Karan aspires to be a cardiologist. Dr. Narula also has a daughter finishing up her undergraduate degree who aspires to go into dental medicine.

“My wife is a nurse, so naturally we have a special interest in health issues,” he said. “I am blessed to have gone to SGU and the life that it opened up to me. I showed them the positive sides of medicine—healing and comforting of people who are at a vulnerable stage in their life.”

Dr. Narula began his career practicing family medicine and made the transition to occupational health. Through the move, he was able to show his children that, in medicine, one can always make a transition into other areas of interest as long as you continue to study and learn.

When asked about the changes between when Dr. Narula started residency and now, he said: “I started residency in June 1990 when healthcare was very different. Managed care was about to start and change the field from fee-for-service with its own issues, to the issues that we see now with insurance overreach into healthcare decisions etc.”

He added: “Today, healthcare is driven by policy, the price of care, and technological advancements—everything is geared toward empowering the patient and toward the prevention of illness. Additionally, patients have much more access to information through the internet, and so it’s much more collaborative now. It makes things easier in a way.”

Despite all these issues in healthcare, the key relationship that matters is the special ones that exists between the doctor and the patient, he added.

Steven (’81) and Sarah Falk (’18)

When Sarah Falk, MD ’18, sat in lectures at St. George’s University, she was taught by some of the same professors who instructed her father, Steven, more three decades earlier as part of SGU’s charter class. It was special for her. When she was just 9 years old, he passed away due to a spreading infection stemming from a hairline fracture in his tooth, and now she too was journeying into medicine.

“Because he passed away when I was so young, my connections with people who actually knew him are very few,” she said. “It was such an honor to come to know people who knew him and were also part of my career path—like Dr. Rao, who remembered so much and said he used to ride motorcycles with him around Grenada. Every person I talked to had such a fondness for him. It was incredible to hear the memories they had of him.”

Sarah Falk seemed destined to become a doctor from a young age—her father an internist, her mother a psychiatrist. Even at a young age, she remembers the impression that her father made on his staff at his convenient care clinic in St. Petersburg, FL.

“I didn’t know the exact hierarchy there, but I do remember how much his staff just adored him,” she said. “I know that he found medicine to be very fulfilling, and I’m just so happy to be walking in his footsteps.”

March 12, 2018 was an emotional day for Dr. Falk—not only was it the anniversary of her father’s death but also the Monday of Match Week. She rejoiced upon learning that she had secured a psychiatry residency at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen School of Medicine in Johnson City, TN. This month, Dr. Falk completed her first two years during which residents provide inpatient care. For her third year, she will undertake outpatient services beginning this summer.

She hopes to further her career by entering a child and adolescent fellowship at this time next year. Dr. Falk is also passionate about fighting for equal healthcare access and rights for marginalized populations, including members of the LGBTQ community. She is proud to continue the legacy of physicians in her family.

“When I was young, I remember my parents coming home and how energized they were about how much they had helped their patients. And I wanted that,” she said. “So when I was deciding what I wanted to do with my life, medicine was always at the top and I never kind of strayed away from that.

“I think about my dad frequently and hope that I’m making him proud.”

– Laurie Chartorynsky and Brett Mauser

USDA Field Veterinarian Finds Dream Career Through Ensuring Animal Welfare

Autumn Unck, DVM '15

As a veterinary medical officer with the Animal Care unit of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, St. George’s University graduate Autumn Unck, DVM ’15, has a wide range of responsibilities that affect both humans and animals. And she loves what she does.

“My job is so diverse—every day is different—and that really helps satisfy my passion for public service,” Dr. Unck said. “That’s what got me into this. I have a passion for animals, public service, and giving back. The job incorporates everything I love.”

The Animal Care unit employs around 200 civil servants located around the US, including veterinary medical officers and specialists who have expertise with marine mammals, exotic cats, and primates. The unit conducts inspections of approximately 8,000 licensed or registered facilities annually under the Animal Welfare Act and each year it inspects over 1,500 horses at shows and other events for compliance with the Horse Protection Act.

As a field veterinarian, Dr. Unck performs inspections and assessments of the overall treatment of animals at various research facilities, zoos, licensed breeding facilities, and educational exhibitors, among other places, in her territory of Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri. She is also responsible for evaluating the qualifications of facility professionals and to review protocols to ensure proper use and care of animals in research facilities.

“When it comes to research facilities and zoos—some of that is very controversial in the public’s eyes because they don’t understand what’s going on there. By being present and speaking to the teams that work there, I know these facilities have phenomenal vets and caretakers,” Dr. Unck said. “The biggest misconception is that the animals aren’t being taken care of. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We are really an advocate of making sure that that public is educated when it comes to these facilities.”

Dr. Unck’s other responsibilities include assisting with the implementation of the Horse Protection Act, by ensuring that horse shows safeguard against unfair competition. She is also part of the team that travels across the country to help out when there is a natural disaster or disease outbreak, such as the Newcastle Disease outbreak in 2016 in several counties in Southern California.

Following a natural disaster or outbreak, “being able to step in and provide some type of comfort or relief [to farmers], by letting them know that someone cares in their time of need” is particularly gratifying, she said.



Dr. Unck acknowledged that while travel for her job has been temporarily curtailed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining relationships, such as with the regulated facilities and horse owners/exhibitors is imperative.

“We are constantly checking in to see if they have the support they need, or if they have questions or concerns,” she said.



Dr. Unck grew in up Southern California and fell in love with animals at an early age. She clearly remembers visiting San Diego’s Sea World, at which she was invited to pet the famous killer whale, Shamu. “To see the huge massive animal diving and being entertaining, yet so delicate and graceful in front of me—at one point he looked at me and we locked eyes and that’s when I became hooked,” said Dr. Unck, who is the proud fur mom of three rescue dogs, and a donkey she brought back from the Caribbean.

Yet before setting her career sights on vet medicine, Dr. Unck said she considered entering the military or public service. “I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I was graduating from undergrad and vet school when the US was sending people overseas,” she said.

Although Dr. Unck ultimately ended up in a career she enjoys, her path there was a bit winding. She transferred to SGU after initially starting her veterinary education at a different Caribbean school. It proved to be a positive move. Dr. Unck fondly recalls her interactions with SGU instructors and noted the advantages to leaving the US, including the ability to gain exposure to different experiences they wouldn’t normally have. Despite Grenada’s small size, she had the chance to work closely with a variety of animals and farmers, particularly when it came to receiving experience in large animal medicine.

Dr. Unck was also sure to get involved in a myriad of student-led clubs and organizations and to put in time at the University’s Large Animal Research Facility.

“Going to SGU was best of both worlds,” she said. “With veterinary schools in the states, you just stay at one school throughout your education. I had amazing didactic lessons in Grenada and then another year of clinical education at Cornell University.”

Finding a career opportunity within the USDA serves her desire to go into public service.

“I’m helping the helpless. Animals can’t tell you what’s wrong and many animal caretakers are not trained veterinarians, so they reach out to us for help,” she said. “It’s an awesome and humbling position to be in and I wouldn’t change it for the world. SGU made that happen.”


–Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Vet Joins the Fight to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 at Children’s Zoo

Shannon Cerveny, DVM '07

Veterinarian Shannon Cerveny has watched over animals at Michigan’s Saginaw Children’s Zoo throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Photos courtesy Shannon Cerveny

As physicians, nurses, and other health professionals have treated human patients in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of One Health One Medicine—the philosophy that human, animal, and ecosystem health are intertwined—has become more visible now than ever, thrusting veterinarians such as Shannon Cerveny neé Shaw, DVM ’07, onto the front lines of the global health crisis.

“When the outbreak started, our first priority at the zoo was to concentrate on the health and safety of our collection of animals, our staff, and our guests,” said Dr. Cerveny, a veterinarian at Saginaw Children’s Zoo in Michigan. “It was critical that we quickly establish protocols to keep everyone safe.”

Returning to her home state of Michigan only four months before the COVID outbreak, Dr. Cerveny was quickly propelled into action as the first-ever full-time veterinarian at the zoo. Her new job entailed not only caring for the animals within the zoo’s collection, but included providing emergency medical and surgical care, developing preventive medicine protocols, evaluating animals in quarantine, assessing potential research and conservation involvement, and also providing input to the zoo’s occupational health program.

“With the discovery that COVID-19 was present in exotic felids at another zoological institution, I think it heightened the concern level of many zoo veterinarians, as we hoped to ameliorate any potential risks to our own animals and staff,” stated Dr. Cerveny. “Currently, we don’t have any felids at our zoo except for one lovely office cat. However, we do have nonhuman primates and mustelids that are also considered at-risk species. That’s one of the reasons why, although I am working from home when possible, I am still coming in to provide medical care to the animals, with the help of our veterinary technician.”

In addition to COVID being a health crisis, it has also quickly become an economic one. According to Dr. Cerveny, her zoo is currently not open to the public and therefore, it isn’t generating any revenue from ticket sales and concessions. Even though she believes the Saginaw Children’s Zoo to be in a good place financially, she knows that many other zoos are struggling to stay afloat.

“At the beginning of the outbreak, it was essential that as the zoo management staff, we create biosecurity protocols to keep everyone safe while coming to work and caring for the animals,” commented Dr. Cerveny. “Today, we are also continuously developing and refining those protocols to ensure the safety of both our staff and our guests when we can safely re-open.”

Dr. Shannon Cerveny – The Early Years

Before even deciding to become a veterinarian, Dr. Cerveny knew she was destined for a career working at a zoo. Having always had a passion for helping to care for and conserve endangered species, her very first zoo job was an internship as a penguin zookeeper at the Detroit Zoo.

“I love knowing that the work zoos are doing is having such a positive impact on global biodiversity,” shared Dr. Cerveny. “I also love to travel, and my career has taken me to some amazing places, including the Galapagos Islands to work with endangered Galapagos penguins.”

Dr. Cerveny grew up in the lake town of Port Huron, MI, graduating from the Honors College at Michigan State University with a degree in zoology in 2002. She then applied and was accepted into the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at SGU. She completed her clinical year at North Carolina State University.

As a student, Dr. Cerveny recalls having several life-changing experiences, including traveling to Uganda in 2005 with several other SGU veterinary classmates to work on a research project with wild lions. After returning to the US with her veterinary medical degree safely in tow, Dr. Cerveny later held positions as a veterinarian at the St. Louis Zoo and San Antonio Zoo. She also did an internship and her residency in zoological medicine at Louisiana State University and the Oklahoma City Zoo respectively.

Today, she serves as the first full-time veterinarian at the Saginaw Children’s Zoo in Michigan. With the discovery of a link between wildlife trafficking and the current health crisis, Dr. Cerveny and her fellow veterinarians are answering the call to join in the fight for the benefit of human and animal kind.

“When I started at the zoo, we were just beginning to ramp up our preventive medicine program,” stated Dr. Cerveny, “but we had to scale that back when the Michigan order for ‘essential only’ veterinary procedures came through. We were also in the process of purchasing some much-needed diagnostic and laboratory equipment and I was just starting to become involved with some local Michigan conservation projects. I can’t wait to get back on track with all of it, and we are anxious to continue developing our veterinary program.”

–Ray-Donna Peters