From U-2 Pilot to OB/GYN: A Veteran Reflects on Her Career Path

When Cholene Espinoza, MD SGU ’15, looks back on her childhood, she remembers imperfections and failure.

“I was always kind of a screw-up as a kid,” said Espinoza, chief resident in Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “I started first grade when I was five, so I was always feeling behind and was often put in the corner for being disruptive in class. I was independent and never really fit in to the traditional educational system.”

For years, Espinoza struggled to focus academically and socially, but the summer before seventh grade, she had an epiphany: “I remember telling my mom I didn’t want to be a loser anymore.”

She hasn’t let her mom down. Espinoza’s stellar career and life have played like a Hollywood movie with her roles including—an elite spy plane pilot; a passenger originally scheduled to board one of the ill-fated planes on 9/11; a wartime journalist; a Hurricane Katrina volunteer; a published author and, finally an OB-GYN who has a profound reverence for human life.

As Veterans Day approaches, Espinoza, an Air Force veteran, reflected on the meaning of the day and how her own service changed her life and set her on her path to becoming a physician.

“What is would say to veterans is, ‘thank you. We’ve served together, you kept me safe and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate you in every way,” Espinoza said.

Espinoza’s Military Career Takes Flight

At 17, Espinoza enrolled in the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In the 1980s, when she was a young cadet, the Academy limited female enrollment to just 10 percent of a class. (With those gender restrictions now gone, last year’s freshman class at the Academy was about a quarter female.)

“Like anything in life, there were moments when I struggled, and things or comments happened that shouldn’t have,” she said. “But it taught me to surround myself with supportive, good people and to work through the hardships.”

A Path Discovered

But more hardships were to come. Around Christmas of her sophomore year, Espinoza’s father died. The shock and grief soon led her to an unexpected, but clear path.

“I was taking a course in glider flying and it enabled me to get over my father’s death on some level,” she said. “Flying came natural to me when nothing else in my life had.”

After graduating, Espinoza served as a flying instructor for four years, and later, she was selected as a U-2 spy plane pilot for the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California–the only U-2 squadron in the world.

U-2 spy planes are single-jet engine, ultra-light gliders that maneuver on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere. Designed to avoid enemy detection, the planes are equipped with sophisticated instrumentation that provides vital intelligence, day or night and in all-weather.

In a 12-hour mission, the aircraft can capture extraordinarily detailed imagery of a country the size of Iraq. And while much about the aircraft remains classified, Espinoza points out the planes do far more than reconnaissance—they also aid in peacekeeping and directing humanitarian aid.

Flying solo missions in U-2 plane can be an otherworldly, almost spiritual experience, said Espinoza. Wrapped in the cocoon of her space gear, she can sometimes still feel the stillness of the open sky and the brilliance of the earth.

“I would fly across Europe all night and it felt as though I could just reach out and touch the stars,” she said.

But along with the beauty came harsh reminders of the chaos on the ground.

“I would fly over beautiful civilizations like France and Germany, but when I made it to my target areas, it would be pitch black,” she said. “Then, I would see a flash of light and know it was a blast, and that meant someone is killing or someone is dying. It always gave me reverence for how fragile human life is and how unjust war is.”

Espinoza observed war from the quiet remove of a spy plane, but with each mission she would feel a stronger urge to assist those affected on the ground.

“I couldn’t directly help people from the stratosphere and that propelled me to eventually get out of the Air Force cockpit,” she said.

From Above 70,000 Feet to 30,000 Feet

Espinoza left the Air Force for a career in commercial flying with United Airlines and then Emirates Airlines–allowing her to travel to every continent except Antarctica.

“As a commercial pilot, I had to be broken of my ‘single pilot mindset’ and not disregard input from others,” said Espinoza. “Success was based on the efficacy and quality of the entire crew.”

Espinoza was working for United Airlines on September 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked four aircrafts and slammed two of them into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and the fourth in a Pennsylvania countryside.

She was not scheduled to fly the fourth plane hijacked that day, but was supposed to be a passenger. The flight boarded in Newark, and was supposed to land in San Francisco. It never made it.

“I was living in New York City at the time and had just accepted a bid to be a captain out of San Francisco,” said Espinoza. “I planned to take the flight as a passenger to find a new home in San Francisco, but the crew desk realized I had gone over my flight limitation hours, so the first leg of my trip was cancelled and I wasn’t on Flight 93.”

Espinoza’s United Airlines colleague and former Academy classmate, Leroy Homer, Jr., was co-piloting the airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

“I knew Leroy since I was 17 and had just seen him in London on a layover,” said Espinoza. “He was happier and more content than I’d ever known him to be, showing me pictures of his daughter and wife. I often think of him that day in Hyde Park, with his smile, wishing I’d been there for him on that flight.”

Espinoza’s Service Shifts from Sky to Ground

The events of 9/11 soon led her to take a pair of three-month leave from United Airlines to cover the Iraq war as a civilian radio journalist. Her first tour was with the Marine Corps and the second, and third with the Army. Espinoza worked as an embedded journalist for Talk Radio News Service (now Talk Media News), which gave her an opportunity to come face-to-face with war—both its injustice and its heroism.

“I departed Iraq from mobile hospital in Iraq and there were surgeons trying to save children who had limbs blown off from mines and ammunition,” said Espinoza. “The medical teams were trying to make something right out of something so horribly wrong. When you’re in the middle of a war, you see the destruction and insanity of it, and then you see these beautiful acts.”

Espinoza witnessed how war changes people.

“In order for me to overcome what war had done to me, I needed to engage and fix what was broken,” she said. “That’s what inspired me to leave the cockpit for good and directly take care of people by switching careers from pilot and journalist, to doctor.”

But before taking care of people as a doctor, Espinoza’s desire to serve brought her to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

“On our first trip to Mississippi, my spouse and I connected with a small community and fell in love with the people and their struggle,” said Espinoza. “We realized how many people drowned from the storm because they didn’t know how to swim, since there were no community centers or public swimming pools.”

So, the couple made it their mission to change the community’s access to water safety by raising money to build a public swimming pool. Amid rebuilding and spending all of her down time and vacation days on the Gulf Coast, Espinoza penned a novel, Through the Eye of the Storm: A Book Dedicated to Rebuilding What Katrina Washed Away.

“I realized each of us has something to give and that gift is desperately needed in our world,” said Espinoza. “For me, being gay had not stopped me from serving two of my greatest loves in life, God and country. This book is the story of my life, the lives of truly heroic Americans and the transformation of my spirit that took place unexpectedly in this small Mississippi town.”

The proceeds raised from the book, which she wrote and published in less than one year, supported the rebuilding of one of the most hurricane-ravaged communities on the Gulf Coast. The writing process helped Espinoza accept herself completely.

“It wasn’t until I was out of the service that I wrestled with my own identity,” said Espinoza. “In the service, I didn’t have relationships with women, I focused on flying. I had tried to deny that part of who I was but realized through the writing and humanitarian process a stronger desire to live authentically.”

Becoming a Doctor: Her Final Mission

In 2009, after what many would consider an already fulfilling and long career, Espinoza started her journey of becoming a doctor. Then 45 years-old, Espinoza started over with pre-med and then graduated from St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada, West Indies at the age of 50.

“I have the distinction of starting menopause and residency at the same time,” Espinoza jokes.

Espinoza started her residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai in June 2015 and is scheduled to finish this coming June. She has been accepted to be re-commissioned into the military as a Reserve U.S. Army OB-GYN. She can be deployed to any medical surgical unit, nationally or internationally.

“Military medicine is what first inspired me, but I thought I was too old for the military,” said Espinoza. “But they desperately need doctors.”

While she’s not serving on Reserve duty, Espinoza plans to work in South Sudan, a struggling country where she has been working and traveling for over six years–first being trained by the South Sudanese when she was a medical student–not teaching and practicing as a doctor.

“With each trip, I can do more, because I’ve learned more here at Cedars-Sinai.”

Above all, residency has been the challenge of her lifetime.

“With medicine and obstetrics specifically, there are no permissible errors,” said Espinoza. “It’s the same as flying jets–there is a certain level of intensity and desire to execute perfection, which drives and motivates me to work harder every single day.”

But, as Espinoza knows, whether in war or in medicine, mistakes are inevitable.

“I start each day with a sense of humility and respect for human life and for people across all socioeconomic levels,” she said. “That humility comes from seeing a lot of bad things happen and knowing I, too, have made mistakes. But every day is an opportunity to try to do better, let go and forgive ourselves.”

And at a time in her life when many people would be slowing down, Espinoza is relishing her uncharted journey ahead.

“I have been blessed with a rich life and experiences, but without question–the most magical, beautiful thing I have ever experienced in my life or career is being in the room when a baby is born,” she said. “Any pain, loss, or hurt parents may have previously felt evaporates the split second their baby is born. Witnessing and participating in birth is the privilege of a lifetime.”

This story, video and photos originally appeared on the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center website. They have been published here with permission from Cedars-Sinai.

MD Student’s Research Appears in Clinical Anatomy Journal

What began as a research project in the United Kingdom turned into an award-winning presentation at an international medical conference. And now, for lead author Jenna Kroeker and her St. George’s University colleagues, that research has been published one of the US’ most prestigious anatomy journals—Clinical Anatomy.

The article, titled “Investigating the time-lapsed effects of rigid cervical collars on the dimensions of the internal jugular vein”, was accepted by the Clinical Anatomy board this summer and published in October.

“Our team was the perfect blend of strengths, and we all came together and did what we were good at,” she said. “We’re thrilled. It was a total team effort.”

The research stemmed from SGU’s Ultrasound Selective, a course designed by Dr. James Coey, Associate Course Director for Human Gross and Developmental Anatomy at Northumbria University, and Dr. Sara Sulaiman, Senior Lecturer in Anatomy at NU, to introduce students to the research cycle and further their anatomical knowledge. A seven-student team that included Kroeker utilized ultrasound to learn how prolonged use of a rigid cervical collar, commonly known as a neck brace, affected the dimensions of the internal jugular vein, which drains the head through the neck.

Twenty-four volunteers wore the cervical collar for a period of four hours, and each student was assigned a specific task in order to standardize the research. Roles included fitting the collar to subjects, measuring their height and weight, conducting the ultrasound, and calculating measurements.

They discovered that “the dimensions of the internal jugular vein increase when wearing a collar, suggesting that there is a venous outflow obstruction with prolonged use.”

Ms. Kroeker then created a poster with the input and support of Drs. Coey and Sulaiman. She presented the research at last July’s annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists, gaining high praise from its attendees.

“We definitely weren’t expecting anything near this level of success or interest,” Ms. Kroeker said. “I flew into the conference a bit late because of classes and arrived to find out that there was a lot of buzz about our research.”

Out of 120 posters, the cervical collar research was voted the Sandy C. Marks Jr. Student Poster Presentation Award for clinical anatomy at the meeting. She submitted a paper to Clinical Anatomy in December 2017, and after a rigorous editing process, it was officially accepted in August 2018.

Its appearance comes during Ms. Kroeker’s third-year clinical rotations at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo, after which she will gear up for the residency application process. In addition to the research award and publication, she has soared in the classroom and on exams, posting an exceptional score on the United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1.

“What I’ve found is that I enjoy understanding over memorizing,” Ms. Kroeker said. “Rather than just memorizing a list of symptoms for each disease, it’s important to understand exactly every element from pathogenesis to presentation, to understand how every presentation traces back to an underlying cause.”

She also appreciates the guidance of her twin sister, Lauren, a fourth-year medical student who is slated to graduate from SGU this spring.

“It’s nice having someone I know who learns the same way I do,” Ms. Kroeker said. “You can get advice but it might not always be the best advice for you. With my sister, I always had someone who could tell me what to expect each step along the way. If I had a question, she could always explain the answer in a way that made sense.”

Ms. Kroeker, who’s originally from Edmonton, hopes to match into a residency program back in Canada upon graduating in 2020.

SGU Grad on Dr. Oz: New FDA-Approved Drug Limits Migraines

Shivang Joshi, MD/MPH SGU ’08, appeared on FOX’s “Dr. Oz” show on October 26 to explain how clinical trials of the drug Emgality—recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration—have shown a drastic reduction of migraine frequency in patients. In one study, he explained that 1 in 7 patients with Emgality were migraine-free for a month, versus 1 in 16 for those using a placebo.

View the entire segment by visiting the Dr. Oz website.

Dr. Joshi came to SGU from St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions. He earned his Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health at SGU before going on to complete a neurology residency at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. He then completed a fellowship in headache medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s John R. Graham Headache Center, while also serving as an instructor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School.

St. George’s Awards $12 Million in Scholarships to Class of 2022

Today, St. George’s University announced that it has awarded over $12 million in scholarships to 276 students who started at its School of Medicine this fall.

“We are proud to help students of all backgrounds achieve their dreams of pursuing careers in medicine,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of St. George’s University. “Our scholarship recipients have demonstrated excellence academically and professionally, and we’re thrilled to welcome them to SGU’s diverse campus community.”

St. George’s awarded 159 students Humanitarian Scholarships in recognition of their compassion and commitment to humanitarian causes. Launched in October 2017, the $10 million Humanitarian Scholarship fund provides financial awards to help offset the cost of medical education.

Twenty-nine students received the Chancellor’s Circle Legacy of Excellence scholarship, which provides scholarships to applicants with particularly high levels of academic achievement. Students with an overall undergraduate GPA exceeding 3.7, a science GPA above 3.5, and an MCAT score of more than 506 are eligible.

Eighty-eight students received the Legacy of Excellence scholarship, which recognizes applicants with high levels of academic achievement. St. George’s has awarded these grants for over 10 years.

“We believe that financial barriers should not prevent talented, passionate, committed individuals from becoming doctors,” Dr. Olds said. “We look forward to seeing all the great things that these scholarship winners will accomplish in their medical careers.”

This year’s scholarship class includes students from 34 US states and nine countries. In total, St. George’s University has provided scholarships totaling more than $100 million to more than 5,000 students.

St. George’s University Student Named President of American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Medical Student Governing Council

St. George’s University student Stacia Griebahn (fourth from right) with her colleagues at the American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting in San Francisco.

Before, during, and after surgical operations, anesthesiologists work carefully behind the scenes, monitoring patients’ pain throughout. It’s part of the reason why St. George’s University Term 4 student Stacia Griebahn has longed wanted to become one—to fill an important role in health care, albeit quietly.

Yet at the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) annual conference in San Francisco earlier this month, in vying for the role of President of the organization’s Medical Student Governing Council (MSGC), she was front and center, presenting to the Council’s 60-member House of Delegates.

Ms. Griebahn shined, and in being elected President, she became the first-ever student from an international medical school to be named to the Council’s 10-person board. She will serve as its President-Elect for one year beginning on November 1, before assuming the role of President on November 1, 2019.

“It’s still surreal,” she said. “I feel so proud to be from SGU and to have a position on the board.”

Ms. Griebahn joined the ASA as a medical student representative at the behest of John Madden, MD SGU ’81, the Director of SGU’s Office of Career Guidance and Student Development, who implores students to gain exposure to various medical specialties during their basic science years. When the ASA advertised an opening on the Council board in an email to its membership, she leapt at the opportunity, and with the support of the Dean of Students office at SGU, submitted her name and credentials for consideration.

The Council’s 60-member delegation—one for each medical school represented—evaluated candidates based on their background in anesthesiology, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and finally the candidates’ speeches at the ASA meeting. Ms. Griebahn was the only non-US medical school student who ran for the position, with several candidates hailing from prestigious US institutions.

“When I was at the podium giving my speech, it wasn’t just me I was representing; I was also representing SGU,” she said. “It felt great.”

The appointment is only the latest chapter in her journey toward a career in pain management. The course was set at a young age when a family member’s surgery was deemed a success thanks in part to anesthetics.

“It just fascinated me,” she said. “As I started to learn more about the field, including how much math it involved, it intrigued me even more.  I also like how an anesthesiologist isn’t the center of attention. If you’re doing your job correctly, you’re off to the side curating everything and you go unnoticed.”

Ms. Griebahn delved further into anesthesiology by observing its implementation internationally. She shadowed an anesthesiologist during a visit to Venice, Italy, and another physician in a trip to South Africa through the Cape Town-based program, Volunteer Adventure Corps, while completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition, she has worked as a patient care technician, providing her a glimpse of health care across all specialties, including pain management.

“Through everything I’ve done, what I learned is that anesthesiology is actually pretty universal,” she said. “In other fields, the treatment of patients can change drastically based on what country you’re in, but in anesthesiology, everyone is pretty much on the same page.”

Since arriving at SGU, Ms. Griebahn has served as Vice President of the Anesthesiology Interest Group (AIG). Most recently, group members have sought recognition as an official student club, which would allow it to receive funding from SGU’s Student Government Association. She expects that AIG will attain that distinction this fall.

As MSGC President, Ms. Griebahn hopes to further build out the MSGC’s ongoing resident/medical student mentor program. She also aims to better connect the anesthesiology clubs and interest groups at universities across the US and beyond, and to generate interest in anesthesiology at institutions that haven’t yet formed a club.

“Most people don’t even get anesthesiology experience until year four of medical school,” she said. “If we can connect the groups and communicate, we can share ideas on how we can get involved and how to receive funding. I’m excited to get started.”

– Brett Mauser

SOM Alumni Association Set to Host Art of Medicine CME in March

This March, the St. George’s University School of Medicine Alumni Association (SOMAA) will take a closer look at the beauty and methods of medicine, welcoming graduates and other medical professionals to Grenada for the Art of Medicine 2019 continuing medical education (CME) conference.

Held in association with the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), the conference will take place from March 4-7 at the Radisson Grenada Beach Resort on Grand Anse Beach. According to SOMAA President Bruce Bonanno, MD SGU ’83, it’s an opportunity for alumni to further harvest their passion for medicine, on an island where the foundation for their careers was built.

“Medicine is an art, not just a profession driven by numbers and statistics,” said SOMAA President Bruce Bonanno, MD SGU ’83. “This conference is a great way for physicians to reconnect with medicine and to get back to their roots.”

Presentation topics cover a wide range of medical realms, including ophthalmology, emergency medicine, hyperbaric therapy, and medicine in Grenada (complete schedule to be finalized soon). By partaking in the CME, attendees are eligible to receive 16 CME credits.

In addition to academic presentations, the conference will also feature activities such as island and campus tours, dune buggy tours, a catamaran sunset cruise, and alumni grand rounds.

“The conference also allows attendees the opportunity to explore the island and enjoy everything it has to offer,” Dr. Bonanno said. “Those of us who studied in Grenada know full well how wonderful of a place it really is.”

Dr. Bonanno also stated that they are looking to welcome members from the January 1979 entering class, the School of Medicine’s fifth-ever class of students.

To learn more about the conference or to register, visit sgualumni.org.

Jersey Shore University Medical Center Joins St. George’s University’s CityDoctors Scholarship Program

This week, St. George’s University announced Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center as its newest hospital partner in the CityDoctors Scholarship Program.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jersey Shore University Medical Center to the CityDoctors Scholarship family,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University. “CityDoctors has helped dozens of aspiring doctors from New York and New Jersey launch their careers in medicine. Now, Jersey Shore University Medical Center will have the opportunity to hand-pick some of the next crop of distinguished CityDoctors.”

Beginning in 2019, Jersey Shore University Medical Center will be able to select one student for a full, four-year scholarship—amounting to about $250,000—or several students for partial scholarships.

Priority consideration will be given to applicants who are from Monmouth or Ocean Counties or affiliated with Jersey Shore University Medical Center. Veterans, those with demonstrated financial need, and those from groups underrepresented in medicine will also receive priority.

Founded in 2012, the CityDoctors program provides partial- and full-tuition scholarships to St. George’s University medical students with a demonstrated interest in practicing medicine in the New York metropolitan area. Additional partners in the program include NYC Health + Hospitals.

“This new scholarship program allows us to grow our academic programs and help area residents, perhaps even the children of our team members, pursue their dreams of becoming doctors,” said Dr. David Kountz, vice president for Academic Affairs at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and co-chief academic officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “Although there is no commitment for these students to return to Jersey Shore University Medical Center for their residency, we are hopeful they will want to return ‘home’ when they complete their studies.”

St. George’s University Expands “Pay It Forward” Tuition Refund Program to US Applicants

St. George’s University has announced the expansion of its “Pay It Forward” program, which will permit US students who enroll in the School of Medicine’s January 2019 class to claim a refund of their tuition if they subsequently matriculate at an allopathic medical school in the United States in Fall 2019.

“‘Pay It Forward’ allows students to begin their medical educations early and to see if St. George’s University is right for them on essentially a risk-free basis,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of SGU. “We’re confident they’ll decide to complete their degrees at St. George’s after spending a semester with our esteemed faculty and tight-knit community.”

St. George’s University graduates have obtained more than 935 PGY-1 residency positions in the United States in 2018.

The program initially launched last year for Canadian applicants. Students who enrolled in the January 2018 term could claim a tuition refund if they later matriculated to a Canadian or US allopathic medical school in Fall 2018.

Three-quarters of current St. George’s students are US citizens. SGU is the number-one provider of US doctors into first-year residencies for the last eight years combined, with more than 930 St. George’s graduates securing PGY-1 positions in the United States in 2018. SGU is the fourth-largest source of doctors for the entire US workforce according to a recent census by the Journal of Medical Regulation.

“St. George’s University graduates are meeting the medical needs of countless patients across the United States,” Dr. Olds said. “We hope that ‘Pay It Forward’ will introduce more aspiring doctors to the top-notch medical education we offer at St. George’s.”

Graduates Help Usher in New Class of Medical Students at St. George’s University

 

Walter Bakun, MD SGU ’83, had once traversed the stage as a medical student himself. Three years ago, his eldest son, Zachary, followed in his footsteps, and is now a third-year student doing his clinical rotations. This fall, his second son, Walter II, joined the SGU community by taking part in the Fall 2018 White Coat Ceremony at Patrick F. Adams Hall.

Having enjoyed a long and fruitful career as an internist in New Jersey, Dr. Bakun looks back fondly on his time in Grenada, and is overjoyed to see both his sons take the same path.

“I wouldn’t have traded my SGU experience for anything else,” said Dr. Bakun. “I’m very happy with what SGU gave to me and equally pleased with what it’s continuing to give to the community and the world over with the doctors that it’s producing. Today was a great personal honor for me to coat my son because I feel that he will continue the work that I’ve been doing after I’m gone.”

Dr. Bakun wasn’t the only alumnus coming back to SGU to coat his son. All together, this fall’s incoming SOM and SVM class welcomed backed 11 SGU graduates, including members of the Class of 1983 and 1991 to join in the special privilege of coating their children. The 2022 Grenada SOM class joined their fellow students from the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program, who began their journey two weeks before at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. The Grenada ceremonies helped make up the University’s bi-annual Beyond Spice Family Weekend.

Another familiar face returning to SGU was the evening’s master of ceremonies, Corey Schwartz, MD SGU ’98, a hematologist and oncologist specializing in sarcoma and breast cancer at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. Dr. Schwartz is also a member of the inaugural combined MD/MSc class, and knew exactly how this new class of aspiring physicians felt, as he embarked on the same journey almost a quarter of a century ago.

“For me, what SGU meant was opportunity. I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the first Master’s/MD program offered by the University,” stated Dr. Schwartz. “Another amazing thing about SGU is that it allows you to achieve your dreams. Yes, there are challenges along the way, but the school gives you all the support that you need to make this happen and it does a fantastic job of that. The USMLE scores speak for themselves.

“It’s very easy to get caught up in the treadmill of one task after another trying to become a doctor and forgetting why you started in the first place,” added Dr. Schwartz. “So, I would encourage you right now to ask yourself ‘what does medicine mean to me?’ and ‘why am I here?’ Your answers are really unique to you, and it’s important that you carry them in your heart and your mind throughout your career if you want to stay on track and make sure your dreams come true. Abraham Lincoln said, “discipline is choosing between what you want right now and what you want the most.” I urge you all to work for what you want the most.”

Also returning to SGU to deliver his second keynote speech was John J. Cush, MD SGU ’82, a practitioner, educator and leader in the field of rheumatology, and a member of the second graduating class of St. George’s University School of Medicine. Dr. Cush had previously delivered the keynote address at the August 2007 White Coat Ceremony and was excited to share a few excerpts from a letter by Dr. Adam Cifu from the Journal of the American Medical Association on advice for students starting medical school.

Lesson number 1: Often the most important service we provide for a patient is not what we think. For instance, there’s a lot more than knowledge to becoming a doctor. Your time, interest, curiosity, are all fabulous ideals that are very important to your patients.

“Lesson number 2: Much of what you are taught is wrong. For example, getting too close to patients is a dangerous thing and to never except a gift from a patient. Patients want to thank you and accepting their gifts is a lot like accepting their compliments. You have to be careful. Don’t shun them. Don’t minimize them. Be gracious, admit that the gift means a lot to you, and thank them.

Lesson 3: Keep a sunshine folder. In it you can stash your notes from patients, your pictures, great letters of recommendation, and other small accolades of things you’ve done for your patients. On good days, they’ll be very important to you and you’ll be able to add to them. On bad days, you’ll come to look at that sunshine folder and realize that life is not so bad. That sunshine folder is there to lift your spirits when you need it most.”

In closing, Dr. Cush left the students with a final few words of inspiration.

“Today as we put the white coat on you, our hands on your shoulders means that we have confidence in you and great expectations of you and we expect to hear your success story a few years from now.”

– Ray-Donna Peters

St. George’s University Welcomes Dr. Richard Liebowitz as New Vice Chancellor

Today, St. George’s University announced that Dr. Richard Liebowitz will assume the role of Vice Chancellor effective September 17.

As Vice Chancellor, Liebowitz will be the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at St. George’s University, with responsibility for all academic affairs at the Schools of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Graduate Studies, and Arts and Sciences. He will work closely with faculty and staff as well as members of the senior leadership team to promote student success, faculty development, and academic excellence.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Dr. Liebowitz to the St. George’s University community,” said Charles Modica, Chancellor and Co-Founder of St. George’s University. “We’re fortunate to be able to add someone with his depth of experience in academic medicine, clinical training, and strategic development to our leadership team.”

“St. George’s University has produced thousands of graduates who have distinguished themselves as leaders in medicine, veterinary science, and other fields,” Liebowitz said. “I look forward to advancing the work of St. George’s University, upholding the highest standards of academic excellence, and preparing our students for lives of service and leadership.”

Liebowitz most recently served as president of NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. Before taking the helm, he also served as senior vice president and chief medical officer at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Center, one of the leading academic medical centers in the world.

Previously, Liebowitz served as medical director of strategic initiatives and network business development at Duke University Health System; section chief of general medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine; and medical director of the Massachusetts-based Fallon Clinic. He has been deputy editor of the Archives of Internal Medicine and is also a fellow of the American College of Physicians.

“Our students will benefit enormously from the insight that Dr. Liebowitz has gleaned from his decades of experience leading major hospital systems,” St. George’s University President Dr. G. Richard Olds said. “He’s the ideal person to help our students prepare for successful careers in medicine and the sciences, and I am eager to begin working with him.”